Another tweet surfaced recently from a journo (@dannysullivan) decrying the utter criminality of public relations people who send inappropriate, off-target, undifferentiated, and just pure lazy pitches to media members (and here we use the broadest possible definition of “media member” to include all traditional, electronic and social content creators or aggregators who collect and disseminate data in order to inform a public). I’m really bloody tired of this – and no, I don’t mean the media complaints. This type of witless and lazy excuse for a PR program has to stop. Not only is its detrimental to our profession – a profession that should thrive on its credibility – but it’s also less effective than using the old “message in a bottle” routine, minus the romance and adventure. Gentle readers, this is by no means a new beef. It’s been a valid and persistent complaint since I got started in the communications business way back in the decade that started with an “8.” But “spray and pray” still lives, sadly. You won’t find too many PR pros who don’t understand the notion behind customized pitches, relationship development, story creation and context-setting but when it comes down to the bitter end, we often do the wrong thing for all the wrong reasons. When we cut corners like crazy it reflects poorly on the individual, the profession and the clients and companies who pay our salaries or retainers.
So here are a few ideas on how to fix the problem:
- Create a true apprentice program. Get your entry-level staff joined at the hip with your most experienced people. Have a defined curriculum and set schedules. Don’t shove your newbies into the big game until they’ve been well schooled by the vets.
- Keep your most experienced people engaged in the day-to-day work. Sure, successful business development is critical to an agency’s health, but too often experienced PR pros “graduate” from account work and spend their mid- and later careers pitching business exclusively.
- Stand up to your clients. Educate as much as you serve. Push back and stand your ground when you think you’re being held to unreasonable or wrongheaded expectations.
IN-HOUSE PR TEAMS
- Use your experience and deliver your advice confidently. Stop the “go along to get along” thing. It’s embarrassing to you as a professional and not particularly helpful to your company.
- Understand that you have an obligation to teach your colleagues what PR is and what it is not, with particular emphasis on the how it fits into the marketing mix and beyond to deliver a company-wide public image creation and maintenance campaign.
- Believe that PR’s best and most effective attribute is a level of credibility in communications that is impossible with any paid-media placement program.
- Take more liberal arts or science courses. In fact, take more journalism courses than PR courses.
- Be a student of context and connections, not marketing. You’ll figure out the how-to junk during your apprenticeship (see above).
- Take some psychology and philosophy classes. Learn about the need for humans to connect on ground that is meaningful to them, not just to you or the person signing your paycheck.
Bang in your comments below. I'd love to hear more ideas on how to save the PR profession from ignominous professional "shrinkage."