Lia LoBello, "strategic" PR staffer at Peppercomm, $16.1 million O'Dwyer-ranked PR firm, is upset at PR's poor public image.
In an Aug. 14 post, she wonders why, when talking to someone not in PR, she is "still fighting the stereotype that I work with a bunch of entitled brats, living for $300 high heels, in apartments paid for by their parents, and clamoring to simply hold the guest list at the next big red carpet event?"
She says her colleagues are also tired of fighting this image and wonders why it even exists when there are many hundreds of PR firms conducting "important, strategic business and communications work for our clients day in and day out."
Helping to cause PR's bad image, she says, are programs like "Kell on Earth," about a fashion publicist, and "PoweR Girls" that "did nothing to advance notions of what PR actually entails" Also rapped by LoBello is the way a PR person was portrayed by Samantha Jones in "Sex and the City."
PR Leaders Should Speak Out
LoBello's solution is for PR leaders to present themselves in major broadcast and print media.
"Why aren't more Chief Communications Officers and Chief Marketing Officers speaking at major venues like CGI, a common way for web services to interact with users, or TED," a non-profit "devoted to ideas worth sharing," she asks.
We've been asking the same question for years. About the only two regular on-air PR spokespeople who undergo questioning are Fraser Seitel and Mike Paul, both of whom are also O'Dwyer contributing editors.
Others with public PR personas include Richard Edelman of Edelman, who appears before PR groups and who comments extensively on current issues in his blog, and Donny Deutsch, who is "technically an advertising guy," says LoBello.
Need to Reverse "Tide" of Bad Ink
"In every agency and in every organization, there are executives that are smart, strategic and relatable," she writes. "We need to place those people front and center in the media."
PR is so busy doing a great PR job for clients that "we're forgetting to do it for ourselves," is her contention.
CCOs and Chief Marketing Officers need to be elevated to the same level of respect received by Chief Financial Officers and CEO, she adds.
"Simply put, if a CCO or CMO isn't doing their job well, a CFO or CEO won't be doing theirs well either."
LoBello says she works every day with people "who blow me away with their creativity, and who wow me with their incredible ideas and business acumen. I offer the above suggestions and critiques on the industry not with derision, but from an absolutely genuine desire to want others in the business community to see what I get to see on a daily basis—smart people doing great work."
PR Is Pummeled Here and Abroad
LoBello needs to read the 4.5-page piece titled "PR Is Dead" by the Centre for Corporate Public Affairs of Melbourne and investigate the fiasco that the first "PR National Awareness Day" was in the U.K. July 27.
"PR Day" won almost no coverage but it touched off a cascade of negative comments in the U.K. press including posts in the BBC by counselor Benjamin Webb, whose "heart sinks" when people ask him what he does for a living, and Brian Groom of the Financial Times who said it looks like "the death of the sector" and "goodbye to PR people…it was sometimes interesting and often aggravating to know you."
There is plenty of similar criticism in the U.S. including New York Times columnist David Carr writing that what he mostly encounters at companies are "PR underlings" who block access to executives and who deliver "slop."
Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are
We're reminded of the childhood game of hide and go seek in which the person who is "it" hollers, "Come out, come out, wherever you are."
PR people are mostly in hiding these days and not only can't produce executives for interviews, they can't even produce themselves.
LoBello should come to our offices for a chat (F2F) and see some of the materials we have. The odds of that happening are slim to none.
Her blog touched off a number of comments including one that said PR Society of America should be "leading the charge in a PR for PR effort."
With $11 million in revenues and a staff of 55 it certainly has the infrastructure to do this.
But there is not one single senior PR person on the staff. Current PR head is Stephanie Cegielski, a 2006 University of Denver law grad. It is like a hospital without doctors.
The nine nominees for 2014 offices, headed by chair-elect candidate Kathy Barbour of the "faith-based" Baptist Health of South Florida, which says it is "guided by the spirit of Jesus Christ," have been sent 11 questions by the press and members but refuse to acknowledge even receiving them much less provide any answers. They are in communications lockdown.
Resuscitation of APR Being Attempted
Instead of sending out elected leaders or staffers as spokespersons for the industry, the Society has hired Laura Freebairn-Smith of Hamden, Conn., to come up with a program that will provide, by August, "actionable recommendations to enhance the profile and prestige of the APR credential to the Universal Accreditation Board and Assembly." APR will be 50 years old next year.
New APRs created by the UAB in the past ten years averaged 157 yearly vs. 256 in the 1993-2002 period, Society chair Mickey Nall said May 28 in announcing the appointment of Freebairn-Smith. Dropping APR altogether is not an option, he said.
A PR Society e-mail to Peppercomm co-founder Steve Cody in July 2009, urging him to sign up for a four-day "boot camp" for APR, prompted him to write a blog about APR with the headline, "Useless. Useless."
He wrote that APR has "never meant anything to any client organization I've ever encountered. Nor has it ever made one iota of difference in considering a prospective employee's strengths and weaknesses."
He said APR "has always lacked any real teeth and is based on a false assumption that a PR person should master rules and regulations in the same way a doctor or lawyer must."
PR, he said, is "an art and not a science" and an APR is
even more irrelevant in today's social media environment…"
Freebairn-Smith should study these comments by one of the founders of a major PR firm that has just won the MINI Cooper account.