Deakin University's Ross Monaghan gets hard-hitting about the future of PR… and the generation who will create it.
Too often the work we do is seen by the community as spin, and the real work that we do is hidden from public view and remains a secret.
Even the definition of what we do is under attack.
In a recent series on “the future of work” FastCompany described the two-year-old PRSA definition of public relations as antiquated.
Rejecting the notion of PR as building “mutually beneficial relationships between organizations [sic] and their publics”, FastCompany suggests that what is missing is a focus on “return on investment” and taking into account “marketing goals and competitor strategies”.
In similar vein, a recent Forbes article focused on consumer PR, the rise of social media, and changes in the media landscape.
“Few consumers are reading newspapers and magazines…so traditional PR, or media relations, needs to adapt,” according to Forbes.
PR isn’t publicity, media relations, or worse, spin.
The PRSA got it right. Public relations is about building mutually beneficial relationships, both within, and external to organisations.
One-way communication such as publicity and media relations has its place, but the bulk of our work is more varied, and runs much deeper.
As I often explain to my students, teaching PR is tricky because the best PR happens when organisations do the right thing and work with stakeholders to find common ground. Often there is no fanfare, and media coverage of organisations doing the right thing is rare.
This hidden world of PR (or public affairs, corporate relations, business communication or whatever you want to call it) isn’t largely understood by the community who are told by journalists that PR equals spin. More worryingly there are still senior leaders within government and business who don’t understand that engagement helps ensure organisations “do the right thing” and is good for the bottom line.
As an educator, I’m worried that this business focus isn’t acknowledged by school leavers and many that do choose public relations as a career believe their future revolves around publicity, marketing, and increasingly social media.
To ensure a brighter future we all need to take responsibility to explain to our business colleagues who don’t understand our complex roles that PR is more than publicity.
Entering work in awards such as IABC’s Gold Quills is a great way to demonstrate business value to our colleagues and start the conversation about the importance of professional communication. Of course there are other ways.
As we approach the holiday season I’d urge you to also consider taking time to explain what you do to family and friends, especially younger people considering career options. Explain that whilst some think our work is spin, and media outlets such as FastCompany focus on the easy to understand elements such as publicity, there are a wealth of interesting, dynamic and rewarding careers in communication.
Too often high achieving students think their best options are in law or commerce and rarely give a career in communication a second thought.
As an industry I believe we need to do a much better job at engaging school leavers, but in the meantime as individuals we can spread the word to our family and friends.
The next generation is the future of PR, so let’s not keep our great work a secret from them.