Because this happened again recently, with the publication of a book by a former top-ranking executive from a huge international PR firm, it’s time to check in on PR and see whether it is, in fact, dead.
First, though, an attempt to define PR needs to be made.
The association generally considered to be the leading organization for those engaged in PR tried to define it a few years ago. In their own words, they “initiated a crowdsourcing campaign and public vote that produced the following definition: a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”
If you’re a normal person, you will probably read that and say “Huh?” You will probably also understand why many of us who do this for a living do not belong to that organization.
Depending on what you do for a living, you might define PR as free media, spin, hype, puffery or B.S. If you’re Antonin Scalia, you might even call it jiggery-pokery with a dash of pure applesauce. And many of us who have been in the business long enough to remember when news releases were written on paper and faxed (or mailed!) to editors might agree.
Which brings us to the real point of the aforementioned latest proclamation of the death of PR.
The man who issued it was a Big Deal at a Big PR Firm who quit because, according to an interview he recently gave, “he no longer believed in either the business model or the purpose of the business he had chosen to profess. He felt like an imposter and a hypocrite and knew it was time to quit.”
So he left that job. And guess what he did?
He went off and started a new PR firm – only he’s not calling it a PR firm. He calls it a “progressive communication consultancy.” And then he wrote a book, in which he apparently says PR is dead, which apparently will serve as the manifesto for the new firm.
Disclosure: I have not yet read the book, which was published last year and was crowd-funded. So my local library does not have it. It is not available on Amazon/USA; but it can be purchased at Amazon/UK. I’m guessing this means that the author may not be as interested in actually selling the book as he is in getting publicity – or should we say “PR”? But I have found a dozen reviews about the book, and the consensus of the reviewers was generally negative.
On the new firm’s website, there’s a lot of fancy verbiage with all the latest buzzwords and jargon. They talk about communication(s), public affairs and public policy, but there’s NO reference whatsoever to public relations. The website describes the firm as “part think-tank,” and the firm’s “expert professionals” are introduced with photos of their alter egos, who include Wonder Woman and Mark Twain. Mr. Big is represented by Bob Dylan. Which I suspect will not please Bob Dylan.
Bottom line: Whether they call it that or not, these guys are in the PR business. And PR isn’t dead: it’s just changing. But it smells like it’s dead when it’s not done professionally, properly and ethically.