Monday, September 22, 2008

We Honestly Didn't See This Coming?

It's been almost impossible to pick a newspaper, watch a news or financial-oriented television program or network or even in many cases watch a local newscast, without seeing a report on the chaos that is wrecking Wall Street. While this is certainly a tragedy, one has to wonder why we didn't see it coming.

Because this blog isn't intended to be a financially-oriented outlet, I'll skip over all the arcana that's inherent in things like auction-rate securities, credit default swaps, etc. While all those things, in addition to housing certainly played a role, the elements involved aren't as important to note as the behavior.

Basically, what happened is that we all got swept up into euphoria over a trend that reality was really telling us wasn't based in fact and wasn't likely to hold up. Unfortunately, our society tends to be one that favors riding a wave until there's a big wipe out, which results in an end that's much more chaotic and has a much bigger impact on our economy and society. This trend was rooted in the fact that many of us, both businesses and consumers, were relying on assets for our economic well being that were either overvalued, improperly valued or suddenly had no market.

All of this is a symptom of our desire to concentrate on maximizing immediate returns, often at the expense of overall stability and long-term results. An examination of long-term financial trends after all this is over will likely show this crisis will rank at the top of near the top of all the nation's financial calamities.

At this point, you're probably saying "All that's fine, but how does this tie into PR?" I think our industry is exactly the same way and that basically the same behavior causes much more cyclicality than would otherwise occur. It's also important to note that until this crisis and the economic upheaval its causing in sectors far afield from finance is over, marketing budgets will be squeezed like they haven't been in more than a decade. This makes it all the more important for PR pros to clearly communicate the advantages the discipline presents over other forms of marketing and to specifically communicate with current and prospective clients regarding what can be expected in a PR program.

By using the current climate to once and for all alter the playbook that's come to dominate PR, we can put the industry in a position to better weather the next crisis that arrives.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Does the "P" Stand for Politics Now?

As I've written about extensively, one of the reasons I believe public relations has a hard time gaining the respect it deserves is because of the weakness of the Public Relations Society of America. Unfortunately, despite a regime change recently, it seems that as far as the organization is concerned, the more things change the more they stay the same.

In its infinite wisdom, individuals associated with the organization decided it was in its best interest to get into the political season. Thus, PRSA CEO Jeff Julin issued a challenge to the campaigns of Barack Obama and John McCain, asking both campaigns to sign pledges to abide by the PRSA's Member Code of Ethics.

In a letter sent to the campaigns, the association says the society feels part of its duty is to "intensify our organization’s advocacy for a clean and fair campaign modeled on the principles of the PRS Code of Ethics, which could help strengthen trust in the U.S. and its electoral process."

A couple of things make this appeal smell very fishy. For starters, neither communication chief for either campaign is a PRSA member; thus, it seems odd that they would ask individuals who didn't willingly commit to those standards to sign a pledge now. While I don't have any issues with a code of ethics, I do have issues with the comingling of PR and politics. Too many people out there have a tough enough time understanding what we do, which is why we fight so hard for that "seat at the table." Given that, don't we as an industry have bigger fish to fry?

Julin goes on to state that a founding principle of the PRSA is "protecting and advancing the free flow of accurate and truthful information… and open communication fosters informed decision making in a democratic society." This despite the fact that much of PRSA's own business isn't done in the light of day in front of its members, but is rather overseen by a relatively small number of people who do much of the organization's most important work in secret.

Finally, this to me seems like another example of how the PRSA is just plain out of touch. In an economic slowdown, PR has to fight like mad to retain its budgets and avoid being seen as something other than a cost center. Given that, it seems to me a better use of their time and a better way to advance the profession would be to educate the public on how public relations provides a quantifiable return on investment and how it compares to other marketing-related disciplines, such as advertising.

Needless to say, I'm not holding my breath waiting for that to happen.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

This Is Why We Have Trouble Getting A Seat At the Table

One of the things that's always concerned me about PR and the opinions of the profession is the fact that, unlike attorneys and counselors of various types, PR practitioners seem to be consistently fighting for a place at the table.

While it's true of many professions, PR is one of those that everybody thinks they can do better than those who are actually in the business. It's one of those arguments that anyone who's been in the industry for any length of time has probably had with a friend, former/prospective client or some other associate at one time or another. Unfortunately, with every positive example the profession has to offer, we seem to be held back by the fact that there are also a large number of negatives.

Case in point, the latest example from the well-regarded Bad Pitch Blog. The pitch chronicles several mistargeted e-mail pitches sent by HWH Public Relations on behalf of some well-known names including Samsung and Westinghouse Digital.

The issues with those pitches are numerous; however, chief among them is the fact that the blog's area of coverage means it has no interest whatsoever in pitches from HWH on behalf of their clients. And unfortunately for those clients, HWH's tactics have even raised the ire of bloggers and others for using sexism and little creativity in its pitches.

Honestly, I would love to understand the motivation behind this kind of approach. Unfortunately, no one from HWH would respond to the BPB, so we may never know. It's just amazing to me that, at least in some circles, we can't do better.