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Gini Dietrich

Self-Hating PR Pros and the Change in Industry

By: Gini Dietrich | September 5, 2012 | 
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A few weeks ago I was in a meeting with a prospective client. At the end of the conversation, the chief marketing officer said, “I see you don’t refer to yourselves as PR pros… and your proposal doesn’t have any mention of it. Why is that?”

I explained that when people say they need a PR firm, they really mean they want someone to get them stories, which is an ego-driven metric, and only one tactic of a larger marketing and communications program.

Even though we were ending the meeting when she asked, we ended up talking for another 45 minutes about this new world we live in and what public relations really does for an organization. Which is much more than getting someone on the front page of The New York Times.

What is PR Anyway?

The PR industry has, for a very long time, used media relations as the example when describing what we do because it’s tangible. Just like you can hold or view an ad, you can hold or view a story a reporter has written or produced.

But while media relations is fantastic for brand awareness and credibility, it doesn’t drive business results unless it’s integrated with other tactics.

And using media relations as “the thing” the industry does is doing us a huge disservice.

There are many other tactics we use: Crisis planning, monitoring and listening, issues management, messaging, creating and telling stories, speaking engagements, content development, events, guerilla marketing, internal communication, social media, lobbying, audits, market research, community development, influencer relations, blogger relations, word of mouth, contests, trends development, and more.

Some of us even integrate what might be considered more traditional marketing: Database development, email, search engine optimization, trade shows, search engine marketing, inbound marketing, gamification, and mobile technology.

When you combine tactics such as these, you have an integrated marketing and communications program that drives results – real results such as improved margins, shortened sales cycles, and increased revenues.

Self-Hating PR Professionals

But even the new definition of PR that the Public Relations Society of America announced earlier this year doesn’t help the industry:

Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.

It continues to refer to media relations as the only tactic in a communicator’s toolbox. It’s like saying you have to build a house with only one hammer.

So the industry has begun to see a move toward other descriptors of what we do (social media, marketing, integrated marketing communications). Meanwhile, many of us have stopped saying we do PR.

I grew up in a traditional PR firm but I’ve been smart enough to realize organizations will pay for your relationships with journalists only for so long. They soon want to know what’s next and how those relationships will help them grow a business.

That’s something most PR pros don’t know because it requires an understanding of how an organization makes money, the difference between a balance sheet and a P&L, and how margins affect profitability.

Those are things we’re not taught in school. And, unless you run the PR firm or start your own, the closest you’ll get in your career is managing a budget.

Let’s All Go to Business School

The fact of the matter is, PR pros need a business education. The major needs to move from the liberal arts college to the business school or at least require some business classes before graduation.

Sure, most PR pros are right brained. It’s essential to be creative enough to tell stories in compelling ways, to provide valuable information that helps others do their jobs, and to build relationships on behalf of organizations.

But the PR pro of tomorrow has to fight the black eye and learn everything they can about the business side of things. Otherwise they’ll always be known as media relations specialists. And that’s just not enough anymore.

A version of this first appeared on Sparksheet.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

108 comments
cegielski
cegielski

Gini,

 

Your blog post caught my attention, not only because you reference PRSA but also because you discuss two issues that are important to the organization.

 

Good news regarding your mention of the need for public relations to be taught in B-schools is spot on:  We not only agree, we’re working on it!  In fact, in June we announced our new MBA Initiative which is a multi-year effort to advocate for the inclusion of strategic communication and reputation management in MBA programs. PRSA has partnered with five business schools – Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, Quinnipiac University’s School of Business and the University of Text at El Paso’s College of Business Administration – all of which will begin teaching a course as part of their MBA curricula this academic year.  The initiative has drawn strong interest from both students and educators, and received positive press from outlets such as U.S. News, BusinessWeek, FoxNews, ABC News, PRWeek and PRNewser. Getting to this point took a couple of years and a lot of legwork – research, curriculum assessments, navigating the world of academia – but we’re already getting inquiries from other schools who want to join the effort.

 

Regarding the PRDefined campaign, as you point out, the public relations industry is dynamic and continues to evolve as technology changes, which is why we’re keeping an open mind about potential next steps down the road.  Our intention, as stated on the PRSAY blog, is to keep the conversation on-going within the industry to help provide professionals of all backgrounds with a better understanding of the vast array of services practitioners provide.  We’ll keep your comments in mind.

 

Stephanie Cegielski, Associate Director of Public Relations for the Public Relations Society of America

Patrick Strother
Patrick Strother

Agree entirely with this blog. I often tell prospects and clients that: "We are business people first."

 

Our agency was started 20 years ago based entirely on the premise of the value of integrated communications. People generally shorthand us as a PR firm, which doesn't really bother me as long as we get to define what that means for us and our clients. We're basically driven by creating value by out-communicating our clients' competition, with the purpose of easing the selling process, providing margin support and fostering stronger sales growth.

 

In other words, we get our business objectives, then develop a strategy to achieve them. The advantage of integration is that you have many tools to select from which improves both efficiency and effectiveness.

 

I can't comment on the overall value of an MBA to the economy, but I know for certain it has been enormously valuable to me, our agency and our clients.

mdbarber
mdbarber

I, like you, struggle with the fact some people think PR is all about media relations. Where we differ  is whether it's most/many/few/some. I like to think that many PR pros understand there's a lot more to PR than media relations. I also don't really see how the new PRSA definition discusses media relations. The fact is doesn't is one of the things I liked about it a lot. There are so many ways we can build mutually beneficial relationships without doing media relations. 

 

The part about understanding business is critical and something I've heard a lot about for years. If we, as professionals, don't understand what our CEOs are saying, we can't possibly help them create "mutually beneficial relationships with our publics." As strongly as I believe we need to understand the language of business, the reverse is also true. MBA programs should include classes around public relations so their graduates understand the role of communications in their businesses success. It's taken years but PRSA has been working with MBA programs (http://media.prsa.org/article_display.cfm?article_id=2637 to begin offering those programs. I think it's a step in the right direction, and hope others will start learning these lessons too.

 

Thanks for raising the profile of this issue again. 

Latest blog post:

mitchellfriedmn
mitchellfriedmn

@ginidietrich Yet another reason why we are kindred spirits; PR people need to understand business. YES!! Why I work for MBA programs!

JoelFortner
JoelFortner

@ginidietrich Loved this. And totally agree. Grade A perspective.

demokrathayvan
demokrathayvan

@crystweet Greetings from a friend from the Batman 2009 Project ;)

Kristinesimpson
Kristinesimpson

@ginidietrich Because I describe myself as a young PR pro ;) cc @YoungPRPros

jgombita
jgombita

Why do you say that @donbart @RTRViews? And I've been promoting the use of "organizational narrative" (instead of storytelling) for 1 yr +.

rdopping
rdopping

Or build strategic partnerships with the right people. DIY is not always the best way to tackle a business.

 

I know, I know, it's not that easy but if you think about it since PR people are right brain and really good at crafting a strategic direction for a companies communication plan and an MBA is left brain and can craft a really good management strategy then why would you want each to the other's job?Sure the lines can cross an you can learn from each other but you are specialists and need each other to create a holistic plan for your clients.

 

This is a passion for me because architecture works in the same way. Great architects are lousy business people (usually). So many do not realize that and try to "learn it all" usually to their own detriment. Then they wonder why the next guy is way ahead.

 

I say do what you are good at and align yourself strategically with the right complimentary skill sets. Why can't we all just get along? 

jelenawoehr
jelenawoehr

Hoo Gini. I think you stepped on some toes with this one. But, coming from someone who recently chose a comprehensive business degree (Organizational Leadership) over specializing in PR or Marketing, you're totally right. I read the other day that CMOs have the shortest average tenure of any C-level position, because if the business goes downhill, the CMO goes out the door. That alone should say something about what companies expect from anyone who is part of the marketing organization: Revenue.

 

I've seen respected colleagues laid off because they didn't get results, and as they go out the door, they're still saying, "But I was building relationships!" It's SAD that building relationships isn't enough anymore, but that's the pace of the world we live in. Companies come and go faster, roles change, technologies change, and sometimes you can get more results from one lucky tweet than from years of coddling a relationship. I would really like to live in a world where every company is happy to pay a few super-creative people for just being super-creative and awesome, whether or not they have any idea how much money their work is or isn't making for the company, but even Apple doesn't pay for creativity without results, as far as I can tell.

Carmelo
Carmelo

Hey Gini,

 

Okay, you DO know I'm knew-ish here. But the topics you discuss are not at all new ... still quite fascinating. I mean, it's all about honesty and integrity (at least on the base level.) But, you're going way beyond this.

 

So, you're saying you're not REALLY in PR. You're a Business Consultant, a Marketing Consultant, maybe even a Financial Adviser of sorts? It would seem that this Public Relations business is passe'. Will this PR business go away? Will PR firms become Business Consultants or will BC's add PR to the mix? Are you calling for the spawning of a new industry (and education) or just some tweaking?

 

Would love to hear from you Gini ... or any of you other professionals here! (what a great group.) 

samraatkakkar
samraatkakkar

@ancitasatija should be fun to watch this evolvement happen in India :)

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @Patrick Strother I think that's the big difference, Patrick. You understand how a business works. You understand how to read financial documents. You understand how an organization makes money. Without an intimate knowledge of those things, it's pretty difficult to really affect a business's growth.

Latest blog post: #FollowFriday: Barrett Rossie

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @mdbarber I'm pretty pleased with the work PRSA is doing to get into the MBA programs. Perhaps it's baby steps, but it's definitely headed in the right direction. Unfortunately, though, I don't things really begin to change until the global PR firms change. And, right now, they're not willing (or able?).

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@mitchellfriedmn You should see some of the comments I've gotten today. Not everyone agrees.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@JoelFortner I feel like I forgot to answer your syrup question about @allenmireles. She's good. She likes the real stuff.

crystweet
crystweet

@demokrathayvan Hi! Time goes by so fast! Greetings! :)

donbart
donbart

@jgombita @RTRViews I'm with Gina & Rick on media relations focus, etc. Not sure 'story telling' is big enough either. I do like Org Nar

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @rdopping I'm not sure it's about wanting the other person's job. I have no desire to do product placement or planograms inside the big box stores. Ew. But I do see a huge need to understand how a business makes its money, if only so we can measure our effectiveness. Too long the PR industry has gotten by with measuring media impressions, which mean NOTHING. But it's the standard metric because the industry has always used the excuse that you can't measure PR and that we're right-brained. That's baloney.

 

I also recognize the fact that I am left-brained in a right-brained industry. Perhaps I'm asking too much of my peers? Maybe I'm asking them to do something akin to them asking me to paint the next Monet.

donbart
donbart

 @jelenawoehr Building relationships should be thought of as a strategy, not the end goal. People can and should be measured on the results, not the path the attempted to take to get there. Building relationships was never enough - necessary perhaps but not sufficient.  -@Donbart

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @Carmelo I don't know the answers to your questions. The big firms still thrive very much in the PR world. Some are adding digital capabilities (Edelman has 80 people worldwide focused on this, a very small percentage of their total employee base), but they're doing so as add-ons, not as an industry change. It reminds me of the early 00s when PR firms were adding design and web capabilities so they didn't have to outsource those things. So I don't think the industry is going anywhere. But I do think the smaller firms (like us) have a huge opportunity to lead the charge for change.

FashionistaChik
FashionistaChik

 @Carmelo I don't think he's calling for a new industry, I think savvy consumers determine the climate. 

ancitasatija
ancitasatija

@samraatkakkar hahha..I know...I will face the heat for a while I'm sure lol :p ...you have fun watching hehehhe

mitchellfriedmn
mitchellfriedmn

@ginidietrich Tells me I need to write up presentation (referencing you & @dbreakenridge) about PR person as trusted adviser.

mitchellfriedmn
mitchellfriedmn

@ginidietrich Not at all surprised. Why the profession continues to suffer (in my not so humble opinion).

JoelFortner
JoelFortner

@ginidietrich Well that's a relief! @allenmireles

demokrathayvan
demokrathayvan

@crystweet Any idea who I am? Follow, so that I can write a DM.

jgombita
jgombita

BTW @donbart @RTRViews I really don't see WHERE in @PRSA's definition of public relations does it talk about "media relations." Big HUH?!

jgombita
jgombita

It was only in my TWELFTH "Bytes from the PR Sphere" column (on Windmill Networking) that I did my JOURNALIST Byte @donbart @RTRViews....

rdopping
rdopping

 @ginidietrich I hear you and believe me I get it. I deal with true right brain people all day and y job is to make them effective. It's like coddling babies half the time.

 

All I was suggesting was that if you have the type of skills to help you sort out the metrics you need to change the way you do your job then you may be better off. So, if you want to understand how a business operates then hire an MBA to help you sort it through. That way you can focus on what you are good at and get a deeper understanding of business ops without having to devote as much time to it. Yes, yes, a perfect world scenario.

Carmelo
Carmelo

 @ginidietrich Yes, yes. Okay, thanks. Well, that's great, then. Onward, Gini! Kick some butt.

dbreakenridge
dbreakenridge

@mitchellfriedmn I'll have to thank my friend @ginidietrich f/mentioning me. PR person = trusted adviser :) Looking forward to hearing more.

mitchellfriedmn
mitchellfriedmn

@ginidietrich Need to do that to get everyone riled up once again.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@mitchellfriedmn Ohhhh. You should do that!

allenmireles
allenmireles

@JoelFortner thank you. And I am too. ;)

JoelFortner
JoelFortner

@allenmireles We can be friends now! Congrats on joining AD. I'm a big Gini fan.

allenmireles
allenmireles

@JoelFortner Hey Joel. Nice to meet you . Yep, only the good stuff. Please and thank you. ;)

crystweet
crystweet

@demokrathayvan I have a few options but I'm relaying on your DM.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Dietrich has been led to a similar place. In provocatively titled post, Self-Hating PR Pros and the Change in the Industry, she writes: “A few weeks ago I was in a meeting with a prospective client. At the end of the [...]

  2. [...] or not your marketing and communications worked. Now you know instantly. Don’t measure the ego-driven metrics (increased traffic or stories about your company in print). Measure the types of things that get [...]

  3. [...] or not your marketing and communications worked. Now you know instantly. Don’t measure the ego-driven metrics (increased traffic or stories about your company in print). Measure the types of things that get [...]

  4. […] or not your marketing and communications worked. Now you know instantly. Don’t measure the ego-driven metrics (increased traffic or stories about your company in print). Measure the types of things that get […]