Martin Waxman

PR: Moving the Profession from Talkers to Makers

By: Martin Waxman | October 22, 2013 | 

PRBy Martin Waxman

Macher is an old Yiddish expression that, literally translated. means maker, but idiomatically is far from that.

It’s often used pejoratively and refers to a person who considers her/himself a big-shot or big time operator – often pictured as a guy with a fat cigar.

It’s not all bad – machers are well-connected, like to put themselves in the center of things, and can be good people to call if you’re looking for an introduction or trying to find the latest news. Hmmm, reminds me of a few PR pros I know!

Disclosure: I have, from time to time, been a macher, and it surprises me to say I haven’t minded that at all.

I thought about the term after I talked to Jay Baer on Inside PR 3.49.

I was interviewing him about his new book Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is About Help, Not Hype and forthcoming keynote at Meshmarketing in Toronto.

PR: Talkers Versus Makers

I asked him about the state of the PR industry and he said the challenge for PR is this: We’re mainly talkers, in a world where companies are looking for makers.

Makers are creators of content – videos, websites, infographics, white papers, or other sharable social objects.

Talkers on the other hand…well, they talk about it, maybe even offer advice or a strategy, but when push comes to shove they have to outsource the work.

It’s safe to say that in the evolving marketing communications landscape, PR firms are competing more and more often with ad, digital, social media, content, and whatever new hybrid agencies appear on the horizon.  And the industry’s challenge is not only to get clients to think about us, but to think of us first.

Putting Creativity Where Our Mouths Are

Here are five steps we can take right now to get us closer to the maker end of the spectrum:

  1. Lights, camera, PR school. PR education needs to add visual storytelling to its curricula ASAP, including courses in photography, audio and video production, coding, and online graphic design. Some graduates can specialize in the new disciplines. Everyone else should at least have a basic knowledge.
  2. Go DIY. Working professionals must commit to learning something new on their own time. Maybe it’s making a GIF, starting and maintaining a blog that enhances your personal brand, or researching and writing a long form article. You can do it yourself, find online courses or enroll in a local program.
  3. Redefine the PR industry. We still spend too much time referring to public relations by what we’re not (i.e. not advertising). Compound that with the fact many clients hire us primarily for publicity. But it’s essential we tell our story by demonstrating the value we provide, and how we help clients achieve their goals.
  4. Step out of the news release box. The next time you’re about to suggest a news release, try to come up with three other content recommendations to accomplish the same business objectives, just differently.
  5. Hire makers. Listen to them, adapt to their perspectives and integrate them into the fiber of the agency.

Many people across the disciplines have been trained for one skill, gotten really good at it, and now find they need to master new types of expertise. Let’s take the lead and transform PR from talkers to makers – or from machers to um…machers – but without the big fat cigar!

Are you a talker or a maker? What do you think we need PR do to upgrade the profession?

About Martin Waxman

Martin Waxman is president of Martin Waxman Communications and conducts digital and social media training workshops. He’s a and LinkedIn Learning author, one of the hosts of the Inside PR podcast, and past-chair of PRSA Counselors Academy. Martin teaches social media at UToronto SCS and Seneca College and regularly speaks at conferences and events across North America. Find him on Twitter @martinwaxman.

  • Great points Martin! It seems like organizations who secure PR resources sometimes have trouble embracing the ones who are “makers” — that it involves a certain amount of letting go on the part of the organization — because a “maker” is (rightfully) going to challenge expectations and perceptions. If an organization has the guts to do that, it could be a win win for everyone.

    • biggreenpen Thanks! I think so too. I think it becomes a real cultural shift and means everyone in an organization should to participate more – that is make something…

  • You’re a big macher (and a maker), Martin. 😉

    • EdenSpodek I’m glad you enjoyed that, Eden. I’ve always liked the duality of that term – and, as a so-called macher do wear that badge with pride – maybe too much sometimes :).

  • susancellura

    Oh wow. These are are excellent points. And I love that you started with PR school. Back when I attended J-school, everything was broken up. You could choose to work in radio, tv, newspaper, etc., or PR. None of these crossed over. You learned one or the other. I was fortunate to learn a bit of everything along the way, but there is no doubt that we need to expand upon our talents. And, learn new ones!

    • susancellura Thanks Susan! We certainly do need to expand what we learn – and continue learning, for that matter. 
      It’s funny how early specialization was the norm for so long in post-secondary education. I stumbled into general honors fine arts which meant that like you, I took a bit of everything (TV, theater, film). Who knew making such eclectic choices would help in my career? It’s almost like I had a plan…

    • susancellura Same for me. I went the journalism track and learned PR from immersion.

      • susancellura

        Word Ninja martinwaxman I say it was all a part of a  master plan. LOL!

        • susancellura martinwaxman I always laugh when I think about a class I had at Columbia called Editing on Computers. Very cutting edge.

        • susancellura

          Word Ninja martinwaxman That is too funny.

        • susancellura martinwaxman Except that I just revealed my age.

        • susancellura

          Word Ninja  martinwaxman I’d say we’re close in age. 🙂

        • susancellura Word Ninja martinwaxman I’d say I’m earlier than that. My first video editing class was on a Porta-Pac. Bet no one remembers those…

  • kaycook925

    I enjoyed this read, I am actually a business major with a minor in communications and honestly I have been more interested in PR and furthering that with a bachelors degree, my school as well has started to restructure their PR school, I am definitely going to pass this onto our Communications Director, he would just eat this up.

    • kaycook925 Thank you so much. And good luck with your education and career. Having a knowledge of business is so important to the communications industry so it seems like you’re on the right track. And if you have any other questions about getting into PR, feel free to get in touch with me.

  • Martin – you are on point. Lot of good ideas here. 
     I was just talking with someone last night who is finishing up school and trying to figure out whether to go product / company or agency route. My perspective: there’s no golden road, but I doubt anyone who regularly contributes to SS would deny that running your own biz or building things from scratch is an immensely helpful experience. I’m not convinced that years 1-3 in a traditional agency setting are nearly as helpful as being a “maker” for that time period, even if you want to dip back into agency life.
    What do you think of “every co is a media co” applying to agencies? It seems like there’s an argument for it (and perhaps Gini & Co. are already proving the point)

    • JoeCardillo Thanks Joe. You make a good point about starting out early being a maker. I suspect some of the more traditional agency employers want traditional experience, but maybe that’s the best reason to follow a different path – breaking tradition, experimenting, learning and making yourself valuable because you’ve got expertise doing something most others haven’t tried.
      I actually always thought agencies were always media companies of a sort and social media is a natural extension. Back then (2003?), we knew how to work with/alongside the media. So the evolution to being a media organization should come naturally. But too often that doesn’t seem to be the case. What’s your take?

      • martinwaxman JoeCardillo I agree that it’s a natural part of a being an agency. If I’m being honest: seems to me there are plenty of agencies that say they are engaged in being a media co. and being more than just publicity hounds, but how many of them were singing a different tune 10 years ago?
        I think the heart of the problem, and maybe it speaks to this post, is that trading influence is really a limited game, and fleeting. Building long term value is a whole other ballgame, which of course most of the regulars around here including yourself are more than familiar with.

        • JoeCardillo martinwaxman Dear Joe: You are smart. Signed, me and Martin (the old fogeys) #NoOffenseMartin

        • belllindsay JoeCardillo martinwaxman Forged in the fiery pit of hundreds of impossible projects. 

          Huge ups to Martin for this post though. One of the reasons I read a lot of SS (other than to learn about Canadian culture=?) is that there are frequently  moments of “hey here are smart things you can try/do” as opposed to “hey look at this smart stuff I do because I’m a smarty.” Huge difference.

        • belllindsay JoeCardillo martinwaxman I’m with Lindsay on that one, Joe! 
          No need to trade in air. It seems to be all about relationships, connecting and making things in a way that does add value.
          And Lindsay – #nonetaken

        • JoeCardillo Thanks!
          Canadian culture, eh?? Maybe that’s a whole other post. What do you think belllindsay?

        • martinwaxman JoeCardillo belllindsay Do it!

  • You and I have had lots of conversations about what universities should offer to PR students. I think your ideas are spot on. It’s more than just publicity and “being good with people.” Our schools would do well to teach more than that.

    • ginidietrich They sure would. And I know of one digital education program that’s heading in that direction :).  I think it comes down to what you said in Marketing in the Round and breaking down the departmental silos in education so students can get experience making.

  • This is one of my fave posts from you Martin. Loved how you tied the personal and professional together. The sign of a GREAT writer (D’uh, I already knew that). xox

    • belllindsay The prairie boy in me just wants to say aww shucks. Thank you!!

    • belllindsay I forgot to mention how much I like the visual!

  • I think this has been an issue with PR firms for some time now, only in the olden days (the 90s), by “makers” we mainly meant “writers.” There were people who, amazingly, made it up the ladder and were not very good writers. 
    On the other hand, there were people who were natural writers and that’s what they wanted to focus on. But as they advanced up the organization, they had less and less opportunity to practice the craft. For one thing, their rates became too high for clients to afford. And secondly, their time became consumed with management activities.
    I think it would be great if everyone was a maker to some extent and those who just wanted to “make” could find a track with advancement and reward.

    • RobBiesenbach You just summarized what happens in my “day” jobs, consumed with management rather than the craft.

      • Thanks RobBiesenbach! You’re so right about the management wheel we get on. The model in PR seems to be progress in what you’re good at (i.e. writing) and do it less as you get better and better because you’re managing people to do that. That’s a bit different from the ad world – once a creative, always a creative (unless you moved to the suit side), though as creative director you probably took on more administrative tasks.  I like your idea of keeping the maker in your job. 
        Word Ninja – any way you can add back a little craft? The stuff that keeps us creative!

  • So interesting, Martin. I can sure identify with the idea of being a maker and DIYer. I was educated and trained as a journalist but wasn’t formally taught how to make videos or set up WordPress sites. Have had to figure that out on my own (not saying I figured it out well). Love the post!

    • Word Ninja Thanks! I think the first generation of social media practitioners are pretty much all DIY. Hopefully, we can figure out which end of the social nail to hit on the head :).

  • This is timely martinwaxman  
    I just blogged yesterday about Social Business. That when I see and read and hear Social Media people talking ‘Social Business’ most are clueless about how businesses run, they know knowing about profit and loss, and they know nothing about workers mentality. Yet they talk and they talk and say ‘You need to do this and that’. all hot air.
    And this hurts the industry credibility. I don’t want to listen to talkers. I want to observe doers. And the doers aren’t usually front and center on social media, blogging, conferences etc. because they dont have time for that stuff because they are doing stuff!

    • Howie Goldfarb Thanks! There have always been people who talked a good game. I want to work with people who play it!

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