Warning: PR post inside

It’s Friday. I struggled through my run early this morning in the heat and humidity. Now I’m going to write about public relations. I mention this because I know few read this blog on Fridays or over the weekend. Fewer still read anything I have to say about public relations — except when I’m writing about ethics and professionalism. I consider that a compliment, by the way. Still, give me another minute here before you head for a bike ride or something else that normal people do on a great summer day.

I wanted to mention what I believe is an important and insightful discussion that is taking place now on Bill Sledzik’s blog ToughSledding. As a really general overview on my part, Bill is defining public relations and examining the similarities and differences between PR and marketing. Bill’s a friend. And he is also one of the few who can tackle this subject and provide any real substance and understanding. He also has the credibility, as a professional with excellent background and an educator who has really given some serious thought to these things.

I’m not going to comment on the substance of the posts or the comments. What’s interesting to me is that this is an example, IMO, of how one person (Bill) can add to the understanding of an issue. And how a blog — when it attracts thoughtful people who are willing to share views and insights — can really be valuable. Take a look at Bill’s posts now and in subsequent days (weeks) — along with the comments. My guess is that you will have a better understanding of public relations — and integrated marketing communications? — then you would by working your way through most PR texts.

I don’t know where Bill’s posts — and the resulting comments — are going or will end up. But the subject of how public relations is viewed — and how people view it relative to marketing and marketing communications — is something I’m interested in. And I’m back in the “real world” now, working in an environment where almost no one makes the distinction. Does that matter?

I’m not sure. Before joining the PR faculty at Kent State, I worked for nearly 30 years in corporate communications at BFGoodrich. There was a pretty distinct separation at BFGoodrich between marketing (aimed at customers) — and other communication (aimed at employees, investors, government officials, the public). At the time, that made sense to me. And I would like to believe that it worked well overall. We were all working toward common corporate goals — but through different approaches with different audiences.

From my vantage point now — working for and with small nonprofits — there certainly isn’t that distinction. And maybe there never was. So here are a few questions/thoughts I have — as someone who has reentered the communication world.

Why is it that communications people have to fight so hard to convince clients/their management that they are right about matters relating to communication? I have opinions on a lot of things. During the last 15 years, for an example, I’ve enjoyed having a colonoscopy on three occasions. So I have some experience. Still, I’ve never tried to advise the doctor on how to best do the procedure.

I’ve been hearing now for at least 25 years that the news release is dead. (Since our government, or what’s left of it, still mandates timely disclosure of material items by publicly traded companies, the death of the news release is overstated. I digress.) OK. If that’s true, why are there so many news releases out there every day? And why are many of them so poorly written? Almost everyone opines that when they are hiring people for public relations positions that excellent writing skills are at the top of the list of requirements. Really?

And would it help those working in public relations to have some actual experience as a reporter or editor? Even in college? Or at least to read a newspaper (dead tree or online) once in a while? When I’m working with communication people at other organizations now I’ll occasionally opine: “No reporter will ever print that.” Really? Duh — don’t they print the news releases word for word. The most ignored words uttered by a PR person: “No one will print it.”

So it goes. I don’t have answers. So I’ll keep reading Bill’s blog.


4 responses to “Warning: PR post inside

  1. Hey Rob,

    As a young PR professional, I’m already experiencing issues like the ones you raised, particularly other departments thinking they know PR best. Too often, associates will tell us what is a good PR angle, when they are unaware of the news climate.

    Also, I’ve been in PR for my five years and can definitely say that the one journalism class I took in college (I was a business major) has been the most useful in my PR career. I certainly think being a reporter/journalist has benefits in the PR field and I wish I had studied it more.

    Anyway, I’m relatively new to this blog, but I certainly enjoy the PR-related posts, so keep the coming!

  2. Will,

    Thanks for your comment. I really do believe that it helps to have some direct experience with news organizations. Again, that can be a college-level news writing class, or writing for the college newspaper, TV or radio station. But anything that helps PR people understand what shapes news — and news stories — helps. And just so you know — the problems/issues I mentioned aren’t new. And I’ll admit that I’m somewhat frustrated to see that we have not as a profession made much progress in overcoming them.

    Saying all that — if you keep reading then I’ll keep writing about PR (and a host of other issues).


  3. Sorry to take so long getting here, Rob. I owe you a thanks for your kind words. But hey, you posted on the weekend when, as you point out, readership is low. Also, you may have spent part of your weekend seeing a movie about Hunter Thompson. I spent most of mine emulating his fear-and-loathing lifestyle (sans the hallucinogens…drat!).

    As I’m watching my discussion of PR vs. Marketing unfold, I’m struck by the comments of those who are thankful for my spelling it all out. Geez, guys. It’s all in the textbooks, and the very basic ones. Wonder if anyone bothers with those things anymore.

    As a blogger, my posts largely reflect what I’ve learned from the really smart people who do the really in-depth research. Maybe that’s all we have time for these days — thus the popularity of blogs — the shorter the posts the better.

    It’s troubling.

  4. Well, yeah. I’ve reached the point where all I can do is pretty much sit back and watch. Yet I’m amazed that many of us actually survived the 60s and 70s. What’s the worst that can happen to kids today? Carpel tunnel syndrome. For fucksakes.

    Wonder what Hunter Thompson thought about marketing?

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