Forbes Contributor Doesn’t Get Public Relations

There currently appears on the one of the most out of touch articles ever written about public relations agencies. Entitled What Does A PR Agency Do? and written by contributor Robert Wynne, the article purports to detail the goals and objectives of a PR agency today. As an industry veteran of 35 years, I take issue with much of Wynne’s message, and would go so far as to call it embarrassingly simple and worse, hopelessly out-of-date. Off all the misguided statements the author makes, three are especially galling.

  1.  First on his list of nine major activities performed by PR agencies is the creation and distribution of press kits. Say what? Our agency hasn’t done a press kit in at least 18 months. If we’ve learned anything about journalists in the past couple of years, it’s that they do not have the time or interest to read an entire press release let alone an actual press kit. And what does he list last? Why, social media, of course. Someone please stop me from jumping off a bridge. Besides reversing the order, what the contributor misses is that social media, for many agencies, now comprises at least 50 percent of the business… and the percentage is growing. Why? Because the world has changed. Journalism has changed. And agencies that get it have changed.
  2. Then Wynne goes on, and this is a close paraphrasing: “the goal of a PR agency is to promote clients and make them seem successful, honest, important, exciting or as relevant as possible. Huh? Make our clients “seem” successful, honest, etc.? The first rule in PR is to be credible. If we misrepresent a client, we are dead meatnot only among journalists, but also in the world of social media.
  3.  Finally, Wynne states that chief among our major roles is to “promote companies or individuals via editorial coverage.” Really? Better tell all the consumer product agencies that the work they do to help their clients actually market a product or service is not part of PR. Nor apparently is crises communications, employee communications, event management… you get the idea, but the author doesn’t.

Public relations has come light years from the early perception promoted by journalists as being a collection of “hacks” willing to sell our souls for a quick story or photo op. In fact, we now are often on the cutting edge of communications, practicing more advanced techniques than our counterparts in advertising, an industry to which we’ve always played second fiddle. Articles like this one do little to advance the craft. Our industry is changing dramatically, Mr. Wynne; better get on the boat or jump off while you still can.