If you don’t respect yourself ain’t nobody gonna give a good cahoot. — The Staples Singers
The back of my business card has this definition of public relations: “The management function that identifies, establishes and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and the publics on whom its success or failure depends.” *
It’s a serious business, with a specialized body of knowledge based in decades of research and practice. Those of us who practice public relations are entrusted with nothing less than the reputations and good names of our employers or clients. There’s a right and a wrong way to go about it. It’s not common sense. It’s not something you pick up along the way. It’s not a sideline. And if we screw it up, we can put somebody out of business.
It’s not a matter of being really good with people. Some of the best public relations practitioners I’ve known weren’t especially nice people.
(Me for instance.)
They were tough. People who (to quote a respected colleague who shall remain nameless) would call a turd a turd, even if it was floating in the punch bowl.
Especially if it’s floating in the punch bowl.
So here’s my message to my colleagues in the profession:
Respect yourself enough to be better at what you do.
You damage our profession every time you talk about something being “just PR.”
Or when you say “public relations” when you really mean “media relations.” Or when you roll over when a client wants to survey 30 self-selected people and then report on subgroups and percentages as if they mean something.
You show disrespect for me and every other colleague every time you babble about goals, objectives, strategies and tactics as if they mean the same thing. And every time you start writing stuff before you identify who you’re targeting, what they believe now, and what you want them to do as a result of your work.
You hurt all of us every time you say you can’t really measure what we do.
You denigrate our profession when you let somebody get away with calling a press release “a PR,” or when you assume a good reporter can instantly cross the street and be a good public relations manager. (Many can, in time. I took that career path myself, though I also studied public relations in college. Even at that, I really wasn’t very good at this for at least a few years.)
You do it when you stop investing in yourself and in the profession. What we do is so damned important — and the consequences of failure so severe — that you should be looking for a way to get a little better every single day.
You don’t like being talked to this way? So get better.
Read. Study. Learn.
Not about Facebook metrics and other trivia, but about the big picture. The stuff that was true before we were born and will still be true after we’re gone. The stuff that’s rooted in human nature and how our brains are wired.
As accreditation co-chair for the Alabama Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America, I’m working hard with my other colleagues in PRSA and the Public Relations Council of Alabama to help colleagues (most of them younger) prepare for the accreditation test.
And what is on that test? Facebook? Twitter? Party planning?
Not much. In truth, the core body of knowledge covered in the accreditation test is contained in the same book I began studying my freshman year in college — which, if you must know, was 1972. It’s Effective Public Relations, by Cutlip & Center, with revisers contributing to it over the years. There are other textbooks and other ways of summarizing what we do, but they all contain the same elements.
If I walked up to you and asked what they are, could you tell me? Why not?
I don’t give a damn if you want to torpedo your own career by immersing yourself in trivia and tactics rather than seeing the big picture. But when you do that, call yourself something besides a PR professional. I don’t care if you call yourself a pair of pink bunny slippers, just as long as you don’t besmirch our profession.
Better still, let’s get serious about this. Get better. Work at it. Find a mentor. Pursue the accreditation process. Take some courses. Show me you mean business.
Because the quickest way to earn my respect is to respect yourself, and to respect our profession enough to be good at it.
*Effective Public Relations, Cutlip, Center & Broom, 11th Edition