Earlier this week, the BBC published an article by Benjamin Webb, who by now, must be a very well known PR person if he wasn’t before!

The article, in my opinion, wasn’t a true reflection of the PR industry neither from the skills point of view or the real-business side of PR. Mr Webb has demonstrated to me that he isn’t up to speed with the profession and indeed doesn’t respect it, although he works in it.

I’m going to break down the points by quoting the article and giving a response:

hopes to improve the reputation of an industry that earns its corn trying to improve reputations

I’d firstly say that PR isn’t about ‘improving reputation’ – PR is much more and is a complex industry to work in if you’re going to make it to the top. PR is a passion as much as a profession. PR professionals are strategic communicators and yes, improving reputation might be a part of a strategy, but it stretches way beyond, looking at the bigger picture and involves hard business objectives, such as engaging with new audiences on different platforms, raising awareness of products and services, but there is always a reason for activity. Is it to strengthen a company’s position in the market place, is it to raise the profile of a company before it’s floated on the stock market or is it simply to add money to the bottom line every month. Improving reputations sits well with crisis management, is this what Mr Webb means?

PR professionals need to know the hard facts, short, medium and long-term goals and the truth, no matter how scary, prior to any strategy being designed.

PR can also be a very subtle tool, working in the background to maintain profile, awareness and indeed relationships.

My heart always sinks when I meet new people and the inevitable urban question pops out: “So what do you do for a living?”

I tend to end my explanation, shortly before the eyes of the listener start to glaze, with the same line: “I work in PR, but it is not the PR that you think that you know.”

Why when you work in PR would your heart sink when someone asks what you do for a living? Are you ashamed? And why would the listener’s eyes start to glaze over? It’s all the delivery and if you can’t convey your passion for your profession then why would someone else get excited about it? Why make excuses for PR?

it will be the changing nature of the media that will fundamentally alter the PR  industry

Mr Webb has got this wrong and being a professional this does worry me. Why does he think that the changing nature of the media will alter the PR profession? Can he not see that it’s the ‘consumer’ who alters the changing nature of the media and indeed the changing nature of PR? We’ve gone from an industry that tells people what we want them to know to telling people what they want to know – it’s engaging. It’s a PRs job to ensure the most relevant platform is used to engage with target audiences and I’m sorry, but I’ve long been banging the drum and chanting “PR’s not just about press releases and media relations”.

Marketing and Digital are crossing into PR and yes, agencies and comms departments are having to restructure to ensure the skills required are there and are constantly being developed. It’s the letters “PR” that people aren’t quite understanding – public relations, relating to your publics (audience), it doesn’t stand for media relations. PR should be using other comms tools to communicate, such as social media and e-marketing. One thing more prominent than ever, is that PR people need to look at the tools, analyse the statistics to see behaviours and trends and be able to use these stats to shape a better and more relevant strategy.

Integration was an over-used word a few years ago and not really used meaning the true sense of integration. More than ever, PR professionals are developing integrated campaigns to deliver results, across social media, events, media relations and sometimes advertising. It’s all about investing in the most relevant strategy to your target audience. The CIPR’s PRide Awards have been shortlisted and the incredible skills, resource and results being demonstrated in the entries are testament to the fact that the industry is progressing at a fast pace, and PR professionals are keeping up with it.

Interestingly, a response to Mr Webb’s article was published last night on the FT website by Brian Groom.

He brings a whole new set of points to the table….

Things are not helped by the fact that journalists feel outnumbered

What does this mean?!! Maybe journalists should have been nicer to PR professionals back in the day and we could have all got on better then? We all remember our first encounter with a busy journalist who put the phone down on you! It’s not fair to say that nowadays though – the journalists I deal with are normally delighted to hear from me – phew! Being more serious, yes there are more people than ever before, but that’s because clever businesses realise the impact that PR can have on a business, working in tandem with wider business objectives. Journalist numbers have declined because people aren’t buying printed press because news is readily available 24/7 online.

The profession could do with stepping back from the limelight and spending more  time working out what “credible interactive content”, as Mr Webb calls it, in  the digital era might mean

I actually don’t agree with this – I think the PR industry needs to use the right spokespeople, such as the CEO of the CIPR, Jane Wilson, who represents a Chartered Institute, one with ethics, morals, a Code of Conduct and one that’s committed to helping PR practitioners develop their skills and knowledge as the profession moves forward. I don’t think ‘standing back from the limelight’ will help. I’ve been speaking for years now about how PR needs to be more aggressive and better represented in the business community. That way, PR will be represented more fairly and there will be a better understanding of what PR is, does and can achieve. There will be a more real perception of PR and the out-of-date reputation of Mad Men and Ab Fab will have long gone.

I’m committed to PR and the profession – I’m a member of the CIPR and I also happen to Chair the Scottish Group, representing over 850 members in Scotland. We’ve made great steps towards working with the IoD in Scotland and are now working alongside regional Chambers of Commerce. We’ve also started working more closely with local government communicators and we’ll continue to work hard to ensure the PR industry is as strong and as resilient as ever.

The industry and profession is going through exciting changes and as true professional, I look forward to growing and helping shape the industry, not standing by the side-line and throwing in a grenade. You need to be in it to influence it!

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By Laura Sutherland @laurafromaura