Gini Dietrich

The Communication Industry Has a Perception Issue

By: Gini Dietrich | June 21, 2011 | 
127

The communication industry has a perception issue. Danny Brown disagrees with me. Sort of.

He thinks communication professionals have a perception issue; that there are bad eggs in our profession, just like every other industry. But that the entire industry isn’t the problem because, well, an industry, by definition, is either a collection of businesses or the building of an idea around something or someone.

I agree an industry isn’t a living, breathing person (as he puts it), but the industry does rank at the bottom of professions, with used car salesmen and lawyers. While we’re not lucky enough to have jokes told about us like the legal industry, it’s an issue, none-the-less.

The problem, you see, is that we don’t do our own PR. We are so busy doing PR for our employers or our clients that we forget about ourselves. That whole shoemaker’s children have no shoes phenomenon.

So, instead, those who don’t understand what we do create the perception of our brand. The most tangible thing we do is media relations because, when a story runs, you can hold it, see it, feel it, touch it. Because of that, we’re seen as flacks, spin doctors, snakeoil salesmen, and even liars. Anything to get a good story, right?

Wrong.

Last week, while in Baltimore, I was running late for dinner because I was commenting to Davina Brewer on a blog post by Jayme Soulati about pushing the edge of the envelope, which got me all fired up. (Valeria Maltoni and Adam Singer made fun of me, “Someone was wrong on the Internet and you are late so you could correct them?”as they high-fived one another for being so clever.)

You see, there are many conversations happening about the ROI of keeping the books, the ROI of engagement and sentiment, the ROI of taking out the trash. All of these things have to happen to keep a business running. They are the cost of doing business.

Typically, PR is seen as a cost of doing business. A cost that can be deleted from the P&L as soon as times get tough.

Let’s Make Ourselves Some Shoes

The time is ripe for us to begin to make change; for us to begin to change that perception. It’s time for us to shift the mindset that PR is an expense and help business leaders understand we are an investment.

With digital marketing and communication, we have the opportunity to measure our results. To show exactly how our efforts are translating to actual dollars and cents (if you don’t know how, Adam Boatsman wrote a phenomenal post yesterday on how to get started).

In order to do that, though, we must get out of our comfort boxes and learn some new skills: Some skills most marketers already have.

Do you understand how your company makes money? Do you understand how leads are generated and how they’re converted? Do you have a relationship with anyone in sales? In accounting? Are you reviewing your website and/or blog analytics? Are you comparing your analytics to the past? Do you have conversion goals, based on your communication efforts?

If you answered yes to all of these, congratulations! You’re likely already proving your worth.

But, if you answered no to any one of these, you have some work to do. In the next 60 days, you need to be able to answer yes to all of these questions.

Do Your Own PR

Once you’re there, you can begin to think about how to generate leads that can be converted to sales. For instance, create unique URLs that drive solely to the communication efforts. Or create a QR code for your packaging that drives customers and prospects to a web property (website, blog, Facebook), where they can buy product, get a mobile coupon, or read a recent blog post. Develop digital coupons with a code for each discipline: Communication, advertising, marketing, sales, etc. Have a call-to-action in your content, such as an eBook download or registration to a webinar.

Track these efforts in your analytics. Work with your friends in sales, marketing, and accounting to develop an executive dashboard. And report your results either to your executive team or to your client’s executive team. Do your own PR.

If we all begin to think like business owners, the perception of our industry will change. When the perception changes, we’ll be able to join the conversation as an investment; something the business can’t live without.

But it’s imperative we all think this way. That we all report this way. That we all learn these new skills. If we don’t, the perception will remain and those of us who do good work will continue to blame the perception issue on the bad eggs of our industry.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

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127 Comments on "The Communication Industry Has a Perception Issue"

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DannyBrown
4 years 10 months ago
I think we disagree a little on this one, too. Go figure. 😉 It’s still a people thing. You can drive me to all the greatest stuff you’ve ever done, but if you have an ass for an account manager, or a dilweed for a CEO, you’re still going to screw up and make me talk about you in a not-so-positive light. Web analytics doesn’t necessarily mean you’re good at your job, either – just good at SEO. So, yes, promote the good stuff you do better. But you still need to make sure you have great people behind the… Read more »
jonbuscall
4 years 10 months ago

I just wonder if the term PR itself isn’t so tainted that it’s hard to get away from the perceptions people have: what about “Social & Marketing Relations” ? It’s slightly more honest with the clear indication that “marketing” is part of the process.

Interesting discussion. I also enjoyed @DannyBrown ‘s post. It was good and provocative.

DannyBrown
4 years 10 months ago

@jonbuscall I agree, mate, definitely time for a re-appraisal of what the industry is called. Is there really such a thing as “just PR” anymore? 😉

KenMueller
KenMueller
4 years 10 months ago

Like a true diplomat I fall somewhere in between. Yes, it is a people problem, but that people problem contributes to an industrywide perception. It’s just that we need to change the way we do business at the most fundamental of levels. It will affect our business culture, and affect our hiring practices.

oh, and you were in Baltimore and didn’t tell me? I’m only about an hour away! Thanks for not stopping by…

Debra_Ellis
4 years 10 months ago
Direct marketers are all too familiar with this issue. There is always a shuckster stealing the media’s attention away from the businesses and people who provide quality service to their customers every day. In all honesty, it’s a little nice having the attention focused on other industries for a change. Gini, your points about measuring and showing value are spot on. If people focused on the added value instead of the drama, there would be a quick turnaround. Adding a post mortem stage after every PR project that includes metrics and a this worked, that didn’t summary would change perceptions… Read more »
Sean McGinnis
4 years 10 months ago

I can;t get beyond the fact that what you’ve described above encroaches pretty severely on the turf of the marketing department in many ways – not that that’s a bad thing mind you. My sense of things is there is a convergence happening in many respects as Marketers become more social and PR becomes more disciplined about who they are talking to and about driving business results… Hmmmm.

HowieSPM
HowieSPM
4 years 10 months ago
This hit’s on what @Soulati and I have had a bit of discussion on. PR needs to be integrated with other business segments and vice versa. If all the department managers just view PR as the folks who write press releases for the investor relations part of the website and the ones who help at press conferences when something goes wrong, or helps get the CEO on CNBC it is a doomed situation. When times are tough I can say lets axe the PR hours. We don’t need to be on CNBC when business is down. I can get someone… Read more »
HowieSPM
HowieSPM
4 years 10 months ago

@Sean McGinnis Sean you got chocolate in my peanut butter!

Glenn Ferrell
Glenn Ferrell
4 years 10 months ago
I think “industry perception” is the generalization we-the-people (me, you , all of us) construct based on anecdotal information. Human beings focus on outliers. The public perception of Wall Street is built from Bernie Madoffs and Michael Milkens. The public perception of the Oil Industry is made up of mental images of the BP gulf disaster, the Exxon Valdez, etc. Almost anyone would agree that these two industries have “industry perception” issues. So (by my bad induction) “Industry perception” may be caused by people (these outliers) but it then comes to have an independent existence that none of us can… Read more »
Krista
4 years 10 months ago

Gini, you’ve touched off a great discussion here! I’ve been lurking this morning and reading the comments, which all bring up good points. I don’t know if I have much to contribute, as I am still pretty “green” in my career, but I really appreciate everyone’s thoughtful perspective on this issue.

rachaelseda
4 years 10 months ago

I just can’t happen to get over the fact that you were as close as Baltimore and I didn’t get to see your face. 😉

TheJackB
4 years 10 months ago

There is a fundamental need for everyone to be able to explain what they do and why it is important- the so called value proposition. Yet very few can do it effectively. I am with @HowieSPM in having a set of skills that isn’t limited to one area.

There are significant benefits.

John_Trader1
John_Trader1
4 years 10 months ago

Since perception is 9/10 of reality, it’s awfully important for PR to turn this proverbial ship around.

John_Trader1
John_Trader1
4 years 10 months ago

Since perception is 9/10 of reality, the credibility of our PR efforts is just as important as the efforts themselves. It’s going to be tough to shake the overall “snake oil” rap that PR has especially in light of the the fact that the few incompetent and unethical seem to sully the efforts of everyone as a whole. Maybe if we keep seeing blog posts like this that motivate us to keep the ethical and best practice ball in the air we will continue to turn the PR reputation tide.

John_Trader1
John_Trader1
4 years 10 months ago

Since perception is 9/10 of reality, the credibility of our PR efforts is just as important as the efforts themselves. It’s going to be tough to shake the overall “snake oil” rap that PR has especially in light of the the fact that the few incompetent and unethical seem to sully the efforts of everyone as a whole. Maybe if we keep seeing blog posts like this that motivate us to keep the ethical and best practice ball in the air we will continue to turn the PR reputation tide.

nateriggs
nateriggs
4 years 10 months ago
@DannyBrown @jonbuscall – Hell, anymore, I think it all falls under that banner of “content marketing” or even “content communications”. PR must not live in a vacuum as it impacts everything else that connects our businesses to the outside world. And it’s not a new problem either. One of the first jobs I had was trying to make the marketers and the sales folks see eye to eye in an organization. As soon as budget got tight, markting activities were halted because C-level decided that “right now we need to focus on more sales…”. Then, they hired more sales folks.… Read more »
DannyBrown
4 years 10 months ago

@nateriggs @jonbuscall Agreed, silos don’t benefit anyone except silo manufacturers. And despots. 😉

wabbitoid
4 years 10 months ago
Since I deal with very small businesses, I have to tell you that measuring return is usually the second thing that I’m asked about (right after references!). My hunch has always been that talking about this is a good way to get rid of marketers that the biz owner has no time for. I have a number of ways that I measure return, some of which I keep to myself – but I relate everything to the bottom line as much as possible. So I’m going to make popcorn and watch this one to see what people who deal with… Read more »
RickRice
4 years 10 months ago
Gini – I think both you and @DannyBrown are making points that must be made. You’re just holding more people’s feet closer to the fire and that’s a good thing. I’ll avoid the semantics and just say the PR business needs some serious changes. Whether we’re talking about marketing or corporate PR I think ‘we’ have always avoided strict measurement against real business objectives. The metrics you’re talking about are what we need to, as you said, go from being a cost to an investment. You’ve already talked about the needed marketing PR metrics. On the corporate PR side, where… Read more »
Soulati
Soulati
4 years 10 months ago

Woah, woah, woah. No way, Nate; “falls under the banner of content marketing” I have to respectfully disagree and share with you that I wrote a post awhile back (probably a year) with the headline “PR Drives Marketing.” Not too many people saw that as I was quite new as a blogger. I believe this and my strategy helps drive marketing concepts, campaigns, and ideas.

PR is SO MUCH MORE than content marketing.

@nateriggs @DannyBrown @jonbuscall

Marcus_Sheridan
4 years 10 months ago

@Sean McGinnis Much agreed Sean. My feeling is that in many ways they are becoming one and the same, and the companies that can do both (PR and Marketing) most effectively, and actually show their clients what they’re doing and how they’re doing it and where the value is—then they’re going to crush it.

Marcus_Sheridan
4 years 10 months ago

OK, let me just say Mrs. Deitrich that if you’re ever in Md/Va/Dc area again, and you do not let me know, the Lion’s wrath will be unleashed upon your head. 😉

There, I feel better now 😉

Soulati
Soulati
4 years 10 months ago
In a perfect world, Gini, all of PR can be all of what you suggest above and do all those wonderful things. Alas, it ain’t gonna happen. I’m going to suggest that the crux of the issue boils down to one item — education. For those business owners burned at the stake by some douche (had to use that once), the emotion around that feeling NEVER goes away. How many clients have you had that were burned by a nasty reporter who attacked and then printed something someone didn’t say? (And, PR gets all the blame; thanks media friends who… Read more »
Soulati
Soulati
4 years 10 months ago
Howie, you’re the prime example of what a PR person needs to be (and I know you’re not in PR); however, I had no major until 4th year of college (took the five-year plan) b/c I was busy taking courses in anthropology to zoology. What I know now is that I was prepping myself to be in PR but didn’t know it then. PR people with the skills Gini is suggesting we get/have should have a degree in business or science or medicine or English and then go get the journalism degree with some PR theory. Combine that all into… Read more »
ElissaFreeman
ElissaFreeman
4 years 10 months ago
@RickRice @DannyBrown This comment hits the nail on the head for me. As influencers on the inside – and closest to the actualy decision-makers, eg CEOs/SVPs, corporate-side PR pros need a more well-rounded plan and business skill set. Even after 20+ years as a PR pro, it’s a cold harsh reality to know that not having that marketing education rigour – which includes accounting – can serve as an Achilles’ heel. We need to do even more than learn how to sell ourselves. We need to re-define from the ground up. Better well-rounded PR curriculum for starters, better defined analytics… Read more »
Kevin Quartz
Kevin Quartz
4 years 10 months ago

With regards to education, honestly the only thing a bachelors degree means is YOU’RE TEACHABLE. That’s it and that’s all. Your real education begins on the job. Every agency, company and/or business defines PR, communications, accounting, sales, etc. differently. Each has it’s own definition, goals and expectations. There’s no course or degree that’s going to turn out better PR people. Our industry is no different than business, legal, health, agriculture or anything else, there are good people and bad ones. Let your own reputation represent you and your business, not the reputation of others.

Doug_Davidoff
Doug_Davidoff
4 years 10 months ago
Gini, Great post (as always). I have some thoughts – primarily that the situation the PR/Communication industry finds itself may not be as unique as you think it is. I have this exact conversation with HR people, IT people, finance people – hell I even have with salespeople (and you’d think the ROI on them would be obvious). I think the issue is more fundamental. There is a chasm (and unfortunately the chasm appears to be getting larger) between the strategic/vision center of the business and the operational silos. As PR, IT, Finance, Marketing, etc. people gain more and more… Read more »
ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 10 months ago

@DannyBrown Sure, but it’s also an industry thing. When I’m on a plane or at a networking event and I say I’m in PR, I ALWAYS get the, “Oh! You’re a spin doctor” or something similarly insulting. In fact, sometimes I say it just to see what kind of response I get. That’s not a people problem; that’s an industry-wide problem.

And I agree web analytics doesn’t mean you’re good at your job. But being good at your job AND measuring your results means we begin to, little by little, change the perception people have of the profession.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 10 months ago

@Soulati @nateriggs @DannyBrown @jonbuscall Golin Harris just announced they’re restructuring their organization as they add people with research, production, and creative skills to their teams. They are changing to four specialties, which include strategists, creators, connectors, and catalysts. It’s indicative of how the industry has changed and what our jobs encompass.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 10 months ago

@KenMueller I was in and out. When I speak, I’m at the mercy of the conference organizers. So I’m very sorry!

I agree with you that people contribute to an industrywide perception. See. We agree. Again.

KenMueller
KenMueller
4 years 10 months ago

@ginidietrich no. we disagree. because you could have made time to meet me. bah. humbug.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 10 months ago

@Debra_Ellis LOL! I’m not sure how I feel about, “It’s a little nice having the attention focused on other industries for a change.” :)

The problem with PR is that it’s not tangible. So we have to work really hard to measure results. It’s a lot more work than most are willing to do. I hope we can change that.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 10 months ago

@KenMueller Sigh…

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 10 months ago

@Sean McGinnis Of course it does! It’s called MarComm. It’s been around for a very long time, but people tend to separate it. Just like they put sales and marketing together, which drives me nuts.

DannyBrown
4 years 10 months ago

@ginidietrich But why’s it got this reputation? Because of what the *people* in it say and do. 😉

I agree that the industry could do better; but you still need solid people driving that too. It’s why the PRSA and similar organizations across the globe have their hands tied – they can only do so much.

Until you have a far-reaching, all-encompassing ombudsman or regulator, the crap will continue to be regurgitated and PR will forever be connotations for spin and sleaze.

profkrg
profkrg
4 years 10 months ago

I think you’re on to something here. I’ve found that media agencies are some of the worst at communication. Many times they need marketing and pr campaigns more than their clients. It seems quite possible that you and Dan both are correct. There is an internal and an external problem in our industry. Now that we’ve identified it, let’s think strategically and fix it!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 10 months ago

@DannyBrown The big, big vision of Spin Sucks Pro is to create a) curriculum that generates a need for continuing education and b) a regulatory body for the industry. Because, I agree, until we have those two things, nothing will change.

DannyBrown
4 years 10 months ago

@ginidietrich Can I be an Honorary Chair? Or at the least, a bean bag? :)

Doug_Davidoff
Doug_Davidoff
4 years 10 months ago

@ginidietrich @DannyBrown I love the first goal – I’d be cautious of the second. Regulatory bodies – whether “self regulating” or otherwise – often cause more harm that good. Just look at the finance industry.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 10 months ago

@DannyBrown I’d love it if you were a bean bag!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 10 months ago

@Doug_Davidoff Ha! Great example. I’m thinking more along the likes of passing a bar exam in order to practice.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 10 months ago

@Soulati @HowieSPM My vision is to see our industry seen this exact way. It’s very hard work and, I think, most people are stuck in their comfort boxes, doing their jobs, and not worrying about the industry or how they’re perceived. I get that. I don’t like it.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 10 months ago

@Glenn Ferrell Wow, Glenn. This is fabulous insight.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 10 months ago

@Krista I love that you’re lurking AND commenting! :)

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 10 months ago

@rachaelseda I’m soooorrry! My time was not my own. :(

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 10 months ago

@TheJackB It’s so true. What do you do? PR? Oh. You spin for a living. Um. No.

And that’s the extent of it.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 10 months ago

@John_Trader1 Unfortunately, you’re right. What @Glenn Ferrell says about industries being defined by the outliers is right on. But I also think you’re right in that we need to keep talking about the issue and finding ways to fight it. The nice guy always finishes last, but at least he finishes.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 10 months ago

@wabbitoid It is indeed a very different world. Will you share your popcorn??

HowieSPM
HowieSPM
4 years 10 months ago

@Doug_Davidoff @ginidietrich @DannyBrown I brought this up Doug when it comes to Industry Groups and Danny still felt it was people not the groups that were the problem…well and the money…oh and the addiction to butterfingers….

HowieSPM
HowieSPM
4 years 10 months ago

@Doug_Davidoff @ginidietrich @DannyBrown Wait we forget Danny lives in Canada where people think of country and ethics first instead of their own self interest. And he is a direct descendent of Braveheart though hopefully not a relative of Mel Gibson.

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