Gini Dietrich

The Communication Industry Has a Perception Issue

By: Gini Dietrich | June 21, 2011 | 

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?


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. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • 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 good stuff, otherwise you’re just a tent without pegs waiting for a storm 😉

  • 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.

  • @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

    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…

  • 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 and provide stepping stones to better results.

  • 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

    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 else to take a stab at the press release. And if need be I can be the face of the company as CEO or C-Suite person as a fill in, until times are better.

    Seriously while I doubt George Bush Jr could of been capable of axing his Press Secretary if the budget was tight, Obama easily could be his own. Yes it is a time issue should he be fielding all questions when other stuff we as a people would rather him be focused on. But he could.

    I don’t read Seth Godin but being a linchpin in the past is why I survived layoffs in the past. PR needs to be a linchpin. But you can not be a linchpin unless you step up your value to the company by expanding beyond the pigeon hole you get placed in.

    If you read my LinedIn profile I had 3 positions in 12 years at 2 companies. I did Inside Sales/Customer Service and I did outside sales. Yet I am experienced at everything except HR, PR and Accounting for Industrial Businesses. Go through the list. I have done it in some way or been involved in some way. Quality. Warehousing. Procurement. Engineering. R&D. Project Management. Marketing. Strategic Planning. IT. Inventory Management (at customers for them). All of this from just 2 basic titles. PR needs to do this!

  • HowieSPM

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

  • Glenn Ferrell

    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 ignore. The communication industry positively glows with integrity compared to Big Oil and Wall Street, but I agree with Gini that “the communication industry has a perception issue.”

    That said, 1) no one does business with the general public and 2) no member of the general public does business with an entire industry. Danny does business with Janet. Gini does business with Fred. From that perspective, Danny’s right in calling it a people issue. You and I can’t affect “industry perception” in the large, but we can shape our “brand” perception through each human contact we make. As Gini said, PR companies do PR for everyone but themselves.

    A shoemaker would make his kids some shoes if bare feet were considered bad for the shoemaking industry. 🙂

  • 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.

  • 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. 😉

  • 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

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

  • John_Trader1

    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

    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

    @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. After a month, none of the sales folks could figure out why the well of fresh leads had all but dried up.

    Feels like PR fits in that same type of interdependent scenario, yes?

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

  • 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 bigger accounts come up with. It’s obvious to me that it’s a very different world.

  • 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 what we’re selling are ideas and concepts, we need to learn to use common tools like opinion polls to see where we start and how we move the needle instead of making up squishy objectives. On both sides of the business we need to think about changing the business model at agencies so we can get away from selling hours (a cost) to being compensated for results (an investment).

    I’d say that would also be the way to stop the endless executive committee meetings at the large firms I’ve endured where everyone just complains about being a low margin business. We get low margins because we insist on being paid for the efforts and often resist being rewarded for the results.

    Just as importantly, ‘we’ need to look at better education and training for the people in this business. That has to go well beyond polishing writing skills and how to build relationships with the media. PR people need to understand things like business math, and, as you said, what it takes to get the job done in every part of an organization. How do you recruit? How do get a permit for plant? How do you actually close a sale. You can’t craft and pitch a story if you don’t understand why you’re doing it and what it takes to help others get their job done. I gather that’s part of what you’re doing with Spin Sucks Pro and I’m looking forward to hearing how that works.

    Admitting we have a problem is the first step in fixing it. I’m in PR and ‘we’ have a problem. Excuses don’t cut it. Yes, people make the mistakes, but it is the industry that needs to fix it.

  • Soulati

    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

  • @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.

  • 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

    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 complain all over us.)

    So, I suggest we have two serious goals — educate those who hire PR what we offer from strategic counselor to publicity hound pitch maven and all in between; challenge ourselves to be all we can be using your list as a guide rule.

    I could go on and on but I’ll save it for a guest post one of these days. Dang, I get so upset when we’re piddled on. @Dannybrown this is a people issue because people in this field must re-invent. There’s no one to teach us; you have to do it yourself; do you wanna? Or lie there and be dormant and whine about how life is unfair?

  • Soulati

    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 real practice and voila; a power house is born.


  • ElissaFreeman

    @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 that senior management can understand, our own reputation ‘P&:L’; one that shows the ROI of what happens when a compnay embarks on positive engagement strategies and the financial hit a company takes when they don’t.

  • Kevin Quartz

    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


    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 expertise about their discipline, they seem to move further and further away from connecting the dots to the business needs.

    In today’s drought companies have been forced to ask very difficult questions and are moving away from activity based judgments (how many stories ran) to, well, does this activity really make a difference judgments. If you can’t connect the dots to making a difference you are going to be relegated to obscurity.

    Unfortunately, numbers alone won’t bridge the gap (which is why lots of CEOs don’t “get” digital). The only thing that will is business savvy (or business acumen). Communications people need to become businesspeople, having business conversations. When they do that the chasm can be bridged and, suddenly, things make sense.

    Thanks for the forum to share,


  • ginidietrich

    @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

    @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

    @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

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

  • ginidietrich

    @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

    @KenMueller Sigh…

  • ginidietrich

    @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.

  • @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

    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

    @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.

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

  • Doug_Davidoff

    @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

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

  • ginidietrich

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

  • ginidietrich

    @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

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

  • ginidietrich

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

  • ginidietrich

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

  • ginidietrich

    @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

    @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

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

  • HowieSPM

    @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

    @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.

  • ginidietrich

    @RickRice God bless you for bringing up the billable hour issue. The industry never has figured out the right way to bill. I hear things such as, “If we’re paid for results, then how do we define a campaign that took 15 minutes to come up with, but is used for 10 years?” Or, “If I get paid for story placements, why don’t I just put it on the wire and collect my check?”

    That’s why I think there absolutely has to be some accountability in how we measure our efforts and, like you said, understanding things like business math.

    Thanks for standing with me and admitting we have a problem!

  • ginidietrich

    @ElissaFreeman Love. This.

  • ginidietrich

    @Marcus_Sheridan Sigh…I’m sorry. You know how it is when you travel and speak. 🙁

  • ginidietrich

    @Soulati I don’t agree that it’s not going to happen. It may take many, many years, but the vision of Spin Sucks Pro is to do just that: Educate. Educate those who hire PR and educate those who practice the discipline. There are many of us who are willing to take the lead…I hope the platform we’re building will make it accessible.

  • ginidietrich

    @Kevin Quartz I agree you should let your own reputation represent you, and that’s how I’ve built my own career. But I also think something needs to be done about educating our peers on how to translate their expertise into something that shows it’s meaningful for the business. Until then, we’ll keep fighting the, “Oh you’re a spin doctor” comments at networking events.

  • ginidietrich

    @Doug_Davidoff Hi Doug! Thanks for stopping by! You and I are in COMPLETE agreement about the chasm and how deep it’s getting. Just this morning, I was talking with our development team about how everyone works in their silos and the goal of our content is to underline the importance of working as a hub with the other disciplines. And you and I have always agreed that PR pros need to become business people. Unfortunately that doesn’t happen unless you run a business or run a P&L. It needs to change so it’s not limited to those two sets.

  • ginidietrich

    @profkrg Absolutely we should think strategically and fix it! I have lots of plans to help make that happen. You in??

  • @ginidietrich Sometimes the work isn’t as hard as people think. If a company has a solid internal benchmarking program, the effect of PR is much easier to measure. If customer service reps are encouraged to ask “how did you hear about us?” when taking orders and specific PR efforts are coded, measurement is easier. It can be as simple as working with other departments to find the best way to measure cause and effect. Perhaps this is where the work is the hardest. Crossing department lines can be really challenging.

  • HowieSPM

    @ginidietrich @Soulati thanks for such kind wors Jayme! we also have the issue of ambition here, which holds for most industries. My sister has a college degree and answers phones at a yacht dealer on Long Island. She doesn’t want stress just a paycheck. I bring this up because until an Industry changes people might view it’s current form as a comfort zone. I view the participants here who are in PR/Communications as ambitious in many ways. Especially those taking risks as entrepreneurs.

    How do you change a system that some entrenched interests are happy with because it is kind of a gravy train? Advertising is no different.

  • HowieSPM

    @ginidietrich @Soulati when I was taking Geology and looking at the fossil record I am pretty sure I found some primitive PR fossils. Yes could take a long time.

  • Soulati

    And, I’ll say it publicly and I know you know it privately…whatever you need, I’m here to help. Not asking for anything except to help invest in our profession’s future. @ginidietrich

  • MandyGambrelVavrinak

    Gini, as someone who didn’t “study PR” in college (my proof I’m teachable is a Graphic Design degree) and came to the industry by way of marcomm and advertising… both you and @DannyBrown are right. The people poorly practicing PR over the years have indeed created an industry perception problem. I tend to think more holistically about image, brand, perception for clients than some “PR people” because that’s my background… it encompasses more than the the story and is measured by increases in the bottom line over time. (That’s simplifying, but you get what I’m saying, I know 🙂

    I think we (as a group of practitioners) need to do a better job of doing our own PR… AND I think we, as an industry, need to focus on internal development and training… so we grow better PR people, who will in turn populate a better PR industry, giving us all more positive stuff to use to do our own PR. That makes sense, right? It did when I wrote it…

  • @ginidietrich The other side of the billable hour is, how do we get paid for being able to solve a problem in an hour because of expertise and experience when other people might need days or weeks to get it done? It just leaves too much on the table.

    The current system also leaves you with the issue of finding time to educate people. Our highest profits come from the lower salaried people’s billable hours forcing managers to focus on maximum utilization instead of training and building for the future. I do NOT miss having that argument with management every month.

  • @ginidietrich It reminds me of an old boss of mine who used to tell me that the salesmen were being overpaid. He couldn’t do what we did and really had a very limited understanding of how much work went into it.

    It is a funny thing. When you make hard things look easy people start to take what you do for granted. You don’t want to run around the office whining about how hard it is, but we all get stuck trying to do our own PR too.

  • CommunicateGood

    Great post GIni. I get very frustrated when people disparage the PR industry (particularly when it comes from within the industry). I wrote a blog post on this very topic last year called “Don’t call me a “flak”:

  • ginidietrich

    @RickRice Totally agree with you. It’s something we struggle with here…mostly because there isn’t an industry standard.

  • ginidietrich

    @TheJackB Great point about being taken for granted. When a business doesn’t have PR, they miss it. When they do have it, they think they can live without it.

  • ginidietrich

    @HowieSPM @Soulati I get that. Sometimes I would love to have a job where I left work at work.

  • ginidietrich

    @MandyGambrelVavrinak LOL! It definitely makes sense. And I agree on the professional development end of it (cough, Spin Sucks Pro, cough). We don’t get enough of it. It’s not required. And there isn’t a real measure of how we’re learning/advancing our knowledge. Also, I have an English degree. Perhaps that’s the key to being teachable in PR…not having a PR degree?? 🙂

  • ginidietrich

    @CommunicateGood Now that just makes me want to call you a flack! 🙂

  • @HowieSPM @Doug_Davidoff @ginidietrich Mel Gibson is a turd that I would not waste second-hand toilet paper on. #thatisall

  • Glenn Ferrell

    @ginidietrich What’s really funny is that I just now noticed your shoemaker comment in the post. I’ve gotta slow down 🙂

  • CommunicateGood

    @ginidietrich @CommunicateGood I hate when people self promote! You should read my blog post about that topic too 😉

  • ginidietrich

    @Glenn Ferrell Oh! HAHHAHA! I thought you were relating back to it. See! You never should have said anything.

  • ginidietrich

    @CommunicateGood LMAO!

  • @ginidietrich Well I see both sides of that argument. As a sales VP, I can see wanting to own both the filling of the funnel as well as the closing of the deals. Depending on the business or the industry, the amount and quality of leads may have a direct and dramatic influence on my ability to hit my number. On the other side, I see the argument that sales and marketing are very different disciplines with different skill-sets. In the end, I think it depends on the business model and the product line as to how to structure the organization. There isn’t any one correct answer. How’s that go again? Oh yeah. IT DEPENDS!

  • @ginidietrich Oh, and whether I’m right or wrong, I’m just thrilled I got through an entire comment without a typo. Heh.

  • @ginidietrich I always share popcorn. Business secrets? Not so much. 🙂 Seriously, I don’t think anyone really wants to listen to me as a “heretic”, and I really need to talk this stuff out before I can figger out how to present it to people “in the biz”.

  • ginidietrich

    @wabbitoid I’ll help you talk it out because you’ll share your popcorn.

  • ginidietrich

    @Sean McGinnis I’m so proud of you. But still…no women will throw themselves at you.

  • jim_knutsen

    Great (and important) conversation. Thanks for getting it going, Gini.

    I think we have to start by admitting that ours is an industry that accommodates bad people and rewards bad behavior. The world is full of Enrons, and so it is also full of flacks willing to make a pretty good buck spinning those companies’ stories.

    What we need is a community exactly like the one you’re building here at Spin Sucks. A group that stands in stark contrast to the ambulance chasers in our field. We should acknowledge their existence and inevitability, and then demonstrate how *we* are committed to the ethical practice of our profession.

  • @ginidietrich Damn it!

  • ginidietrich

    @jim_knutsen What a nice compliment – thank you!

    You’re right…and it’s hard to stand out when you have global PR firms doing things such as whisper campaigns for the likes of Facebook. But we will prevail!

  • @ginidietrich @MandyGambrelVavrinak Now, now… Be nice to those of us who do have a degree in PR. Some of us can learn.

  • ginidietrich

    @RickRice @MandyGambrelVavrinak HAHAHAH! OK, Rick. You’re the exception to the rule.

  • HowieSPM

    @ginidietrich @Marcus_Sheridan Marcus she really wasn’t in the area. It was a hologram broadcast from Chicago. But no one was supposed to know.

  • HowieSPM

    @ginidietrich @TheJackB Having a long career in sales it always seems when the Salespeople are overpaid the company always was going bonkers with sales and the minute upper management got greedy to cut salespeople pay sales dropped. Ironical.

    I left my last ‘corp sales job’ because my new Manager (6th in 5 years) came on board just as I scored Ford’s Hydrogen Fuel System Development program. We booked it but we were overloaded in our engineering dept I was asked to get a months grace. (not my fault! but I did) which stretched to 4 months and Ford was screaming bloody murder and demanded a teleconference. Mind you I had a document with 4 VP signatures from 2 Divisions of a $500m company guaranteeing Ford we would support this program. My ‘new’ boss said ‘Do I really have to be on the call? I mean you have been working the project for 18 months’ He wasn’t on the call. But sales people are overpaid remember. Please don’t ask about what happened next. lol

  • HowieSPM

    @ginidietrich @Glenn Ferrell Gini did Fred ever pay up the over 60 day invoices?

  • ElissaFreeman

    @RickRice @ginidietrich Being on the client side, I hired my agencies based on their speed of expertise esp where issues management is concerned. But since we understand how we best work with one another, our budget (which we agreed upon together) reflects that reality. While juniors may do media monitoring, call reports etc, they cannot do the real heavy lifting; for that I need top-level expertise.

  • @HowieSPM I feel your pain. At one company they cut my commission by two thirds and plead poverty. I would have accepted that except the owner showed up with a brand new Mercedes and spent 20 minutes talking about how much his wife spent on new furniture. And so it goes.@ginidietrich

  • In my defense I was playing devil’s advocate .. or at least, raising some of those objections as per the ‘perception’ problem, these are questions we have to be able to answer. Plus it got me mentioned in a SS post, so I should be wrong more often. 😉

    Liked a lot of the comments here on many sides of the issue, yet as I’m like @wabbitoid and work with SMBs, some of this is a little above my paygrade so to speak. That said, I also don’t like the ‘flack’ and ‘spin’ titles, the ‘advertising and sales’ comparisons… want to jokingly blame Hollywood but that’s not going to help. The only solutions I can offer: this. Keep doing this, reading and sharing different posts and articles on all sides of the issues; per @Soulati keep pushing for education, raising the level of debate. I’d like to be pie-in-the-sky and say the cream will rise, the crap will fall.. but alas, suspect otherwise. What else can I do? Strive to be better, always. FWIW.

  • @ElissaFreeman @ginidietrich That’s a great approach. There aren’t many clients out there that show that kind of understanding. Good for you and your agencies.

  • @ginidietrich @HowieSPM @Soulati Me, too!

  • @Soulati @HowieSPM I’m the proud owner of a BA and an MA in Political Science. My PR skills were learned along the way and “on the front lines”. Need a spokesperson for the company? Grab Erica. Need someone to write a story or a press release or talk to a reporter? Grab Erica. And while you’re at it, Erica, make sure we hit our profit margins and cut costs. Juggling all of those balls really made me understand how it all has to work together. If what I’m “pitching” doesn’t match what we’re selling and in turn tanks our profit margins, well then I’m just another face and I’ve got some major cleaning up to do.

    I have a hard time when my clients don’t know where they’re going or what their margins are (yes, @Soulati , I know, I need better clients) and expect me to pitch, promote, and get them to the next big thing. Hello? If you don’t know where you’re going, how would I get you there?

    I think there are some PR folks out there (in fact, I have seen them and had to clean up their work) that might not care about that. I do. What I do has to line up with the client’s business goals and bottom line and result in some positive results – not just some awesome media coverage or a lovely new campaign to match their new logo or rockin’ website. If it doesn’t turn into something tangible, it doesn’t work. Bottom line.

  • MandyGambrelVavrinak

    @RickRice @ginidietrich sorry, Rick! I do know some fabulously good PR pros who are PR degree holders. No disparagement intended!

  • MandyGambrelVavrinak

    @ginidietrich @John_Trader1 @Glenn Ferrell you know, I’ve found that doing things right (and insisting on ethical approaches) has lost me some business over the years, but it’s attracted the right type of clients… Meaning long term being nice has pushed me ahead.

  • Doug_Davidoff

    @EricaAllison i think you’ve hit on something. PR people and members of all other disciplines need to throw themselves into broader, different business disciplines to learn how things work together. It’s a new filter that I’m going to use whenever I hire anyone – either for employment or advice. Thanks!

  • @MandyGambrelVavrinak @ginidietrich Absolutely none taken. I know plenty of idiots with PR degrees. I do, however, particularly enjoy the irony that mine is a BS from BU… Even they stopped offering it the year after I graduated back in the ice age. You gotta smile!

  • @ginidietrich @profkrg I’m in if I can help.

  • wilsonellis

    @KateNasser thank you for the retweet, Kate.

  • wilsonellis

    @NaomiFosterAus Naomi, thank you for the retweet!

  • SpinSucks

    @GlennFerrell ha! Thanks. Sorry bout that!

  • ginidietrich

    @3HatsComm Oh I don’t think you’re wrong and I absolutely think we should be playing devil’s advocate. I almost linked to the ROI of your mom so you wouldn’t think I was disagreeing with you in this post, but I couldn’t make it fit with the idea that it was a cost of doing business.

    I actually believe the cream will rise and, through education (consistent education), we’ll begin to see the perception change. During our career lifetime. I really believe it.

  • wilsonellis

    @mike9wood thank you for the retweet.

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  • coffeewithjulie

    I’m afraid I won’t be reading the 102 comments before me, so please forgive me for that first in case I’m repeating someone else’s point ….

    Your title and intro use the term “communications industry” and “communications professionals” in relation to this perception issue. But as someone who has been working in “corporate communications” for almost 20 years now, I can’t say that I agree. Perhaps “PR” has an image problem, but corporate communications? Not so much. We are the folks ghost writing executive speeches, drafting annual reports and issuing news releases. We’re largely considered a less glamorous profession, and we don’t tend to get the same “spin doctor” association tied to us. If you scan through the articles coming out from our professional association, IABC International, you won’t find any discussion of this issue. We’re generally obsessed with how we can measure our value in relation to the corporate bottom line.

  • GlennFerrell

    @SpinSucks No problem. It gave a chance to read a great post. That Glenn Ferrell is a sharp guy. I’ve run across his stuff before. 🙂

  • SpinSucks

    @glennferrell Hilarious. he is very sharp. 🙂

  • Glenn Ferrell

    @HowieSPM @ginidietrich Hmm sounds like Fred is about as elusive (or maybe “illusive”) as Charles (Arment) 🙂

  • Leon

    G’Day Gini,

    Thanks for a really useful post. Here’s acouple of general comments.

    !. perception is the only reality. As my boss used to tell me decades ago when I was a bright-eyed and bushy tailed young Training Officer, “the opinions that people hold are facts to them.”

    2. if you can’t measure it, don’t teach it. I’d like to claim that, but it’s been said by many others in many ways too.

    But just imagine Gini……If all web marketers stood or fell by that little power-packed dictum, we’d probably have up to 75% of stuff on the web disappear overnight. But how good would the remaining 25% be?

    Change a few perceptions too…….!

    Make sure and all that



  • ginidietrich

    @prdrln We can PR everything but us. Love that!

  • ginidietrich

    @Leon I love #2, Leon! You’re right, we might have a good percentage fall off, but what’s remaining is of huge value. I think it’s worth it.

  • ginidietrich

    @coffeewithjulie Perhaps the difference is that I come from an agency background, not internal. But the perception issue is rampant and I know a lot of corp comm people agree with me. If you’re issuing news releases and ghost writing speeches, the mass audience thinks you’re a spin doctor… messaging your way out of trouble for your CEO.

  • coffeewithjulie

    @ginidietrich @coffeewithjulie Yes, maybe it’s a perception difference between the work of an external agency versus that of internal employees. Or maybe it’s because I don’t (and most of our region doesn’t) work for high-profile companies since we have a great deal of government and B2B work here. Or maybe I’m just in denial about being a spin doctor. 😉

  • ginidietrich

    @coffeewithjulie LOL! You’re NOT a spin doctor. There are just too many people who think you (we) are. Grrrr!

  • NaomiFosterAus

    @wilsonellis np 🙂

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  • ginidietrich

    @Trace_Cohen Unfortunately

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  • 2twitme

    To put it simply: You define yourself, not let others. @PR

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  • NancyM.

    I like what you say about PR professionals not doing their own PR. Come to think of it, this is VERY true. The image of the whole PR industry needs some serious PR work. And PR is definitely an investment for businesses, not an expense.