PR Council’s Missed Opportunity


Today’s New York Times advertising column penned by the inimitable Stuart Elliott, reports on how the Council of PR Firms is considering a name change along with new initiatives supporting PR. This is clearly an effort to become more relevant to CMOs and brands everywhere, but unfortunately, what the council is proposing is akin to putting a Band-Aid on a leaking dyke. What the council fails to recognize is that communications has fundamentally changed. Social media is now driving the bus and the public relations agency model is becoming more and more outdated and broken.

As one who has proudly been in the PR agency business for over 35 years, built a top 20 PR firm (Middleberg & Associates), was named Mid-Sized Agency of the Year and ranked as the country’s #1 Internet PR Agency, I am deeply saddened and frustrated by the lack of action among our industry’s leaders about the dramatic changes that are taking place.  I was a founding member of the council but resigned my membership nearly 2 years ago as the council has failed to take the bold steps needed to embrace change. I have spoken countless times to my industry peers about the need to drop Public Relations from the council’s name and welcome new communications agencies into the fold. By excluding social media, experiential and other new agency models, the council is following the status quo. This won’t cut it today. Where is the out-of-the-box thinking we are always preaching to our clients?

I love PR people and have great respect for my fellow agency CEOs, along with President Kathy Cripps. These are good, honorable, well-meaning people who care about the industry. But they don’t get it just yet. While many of these folks are dramatically changing their own agencies by acquiring or adding in-house social media capabilities, they view social media as a service function, not a core capability. Christopher Graves, the chairman of Ogilvy Public Relations and chairman-elect of the council said, “We should be evolving all the time, and we should be doing it faster and faster, frankly.” Agreed. So how does changing the name of the Council of PR Firms to the PR Council reflect change? Where is the recognition of social media? Graves refers to PR as taking “a central role of ‘earned influence.’” That is true, but earned influence is only part of the social media mantra of “earned, owned, and paid media.” PR today is part of the communications matrix, but not the dominant part that it once was. While there will always be a need for media relations, crisis communications, event management and many of the other tools that are unique to PR, social media is now the driving force of communications.

If the council is interested in real change, they have to take bold, dramatic action. The world is changing fast. The council is not keeping pace.