GUEST POST: Does the PR industry need a reputation boost?

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Geoff Hoddinott, the managing director of Business & Technology PR, writes a guest post about whether public relations in Australia needs a reputation boost.


In the last decade the PR industry has toiled to prove it deserved a place above the advertising industry when it came to corporate and brand messaging, corporate and brand reputation and, more recently, online corporate and brand monitoring and management. The reputation of the PR industry was one very much based on strategic messaging, connecting with the right audiences and developing purposeful media relationships.

But two worlds collided… the growth of online audiences with its accompanying growth of online PR practice areas, and the demise of some sections of print media. The move by many agencies to the ‘always on’ world of online engagement has sadly resulted in parts of the PR industry being open to an accusation of having forgotten what it is all about.

PR (and, to a lesser extent advertising) is about four basic, measurable, communication goals:
1. Awareness – have I heard about your company/brand
2. Comprehension – I have heard of your company/brand and understand what it stands for
3. Attitude – I have clear feelings about what your company/brand means to me
4. Behaviour – I understand all of the above and will act on your relevant statements/offers

With the rush to online audiences, too many PR agencies ignored what it was all about. Suddenly it was about ‘conversations’, ‘connecting’, and just plain numbers.

This was not helped by publishing houses that were faced with a new generation of potential readers who simply did not read newspapers, preferring to get their information online instead. So online was where agencies saw a river of new revenue… and staffed up for it. Social media was sexy. Clients wanted to have Facebook pages. Agencies wanted to be seen as online/social media ‘gurus’.

At the same time advertising agencies were developing campaign mini-sites that cut into traditional PR revenues. So, PR went chasing the bright shiny object that is all things digital.

Therefore, in addressing the topic about whether the Australian PR industry needs to boost its reputation,we need to look at how this relates to various audiences.

Improve its reputation with whom? Itself? Traditional media? Social media audiences? Potential employees within the industry? Clients? Boardrooms? Partners such as ad agencies, media planners, research organisations, web developers?

The unfortunate article that was the catalyst for this topic elicited a number of valid comments, but for me, none more than the following comment:

“Agree totally with [commenter] RBall. There are now tweets saying this article represents the PR Industry’s views. This is one person’s opinion and definitely isn’t shared by myself or any of the PRs I work with.”

This, to me, is the crux of the problem… as the number of comments grows, it can often include tweets like the one referred to above.

As many PR pros will tell you, online media is predominantly about conversations. The problem is that too many people want the last word in a conversation, so online can turn into water torture on some topics. Is this what we want to be spending clients’ budgets on? Tracking conversations and trying to have the last word? I hope not, but I suspect vast amounts of money are being spent in this way… rather than getting back to the basics of what we are meant to be about.

‚ÄčHow to redress this? Has the race for online presence been embraced to the detriment of what PR is really about? We are moving on, but with a traditional media train-wreck behind us, and not yet having managed to migrate our core raison d'être online. For this reason I think that the industry has seen its reputation damaged, and a growing lack of understanding by others as to what PR actually does.

I fear we have given many audiences the impression that PR today (or at least the online part of it) equates to little more than chasing publicity and putting out its own bushfires. And having the last word. Which I just did. So there. Goodbye.

Have your say - does the reputation of Australian public relations need a boost? If so, what can be done to improve it? Does PR in Australia have a better or worse reputation than other countries?

Comment below, or email if you want your comment included in a PR discussion article later in the week.


Find out more about Business & Technology PR. Geoff is also the author of the book Paradise Wins, which you can find out more about at Amazon.

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