[O'Dwyer's asked PR Council chair Christopher Graves to reply to Lucy Siegel's 11/12/2014 piece on the use of the "PR" name in the industry.]
There have been cases throughout history of companies changing their names to shed associations with antiquated ideas (such as International Business Machines adopting the initialization "IBM" as its full, official name... or National Cash Register becoming simply "NCR").
While some eponymous companies (Edelman, FleishmanHillard, Burson-Marsteller, Ketchum, Weber Shandwick) have no explicit reference to PR in their names, they are not unlike law firms; you don't see the word "law" or "lawyer" in such firms as: Wachtell, Lipton; Sullivan & Cromwell; etc. But the legal domain has had to come to grips with new areas of expertise all the time, such as cybersecurity and data privacy. This did not render their core competence obsolete.
Instead, they leveraged that competency into newly-emerging realms.
Similarly, we (The PR Council) believe that there is a differentiated core competence expressed by the term "public relations." Namely: we are experts at building relationships with various audiences in order to foster trust, build understanding, guard reputations and earn the right to influence others.
That core competence now extends into social media, and demands new skills in content marketing, data-driven intelligence and visual narrative. But beneath all the new modes, platforms and skills lies the immutable core of understanding earned influence.
That means beyond "earned media," we earn the right to talk to people, to discuss, to inform, to educate and possibly change minds. As cynicism rises and trust wanes, being experts at earning the right to influence others becomes more and more valuable.
Each new skill supports this core competence of building relationships and earned influence. For example, content creation & marketing should be in service of relationship building.
Social media expertise serves the need to build individual and community relationships as well as influencer outreach online.
Data-driven intelligence should be in service of better understanding those with whom we wish to build a relationship, and through what means.
Visual narratives should serve to extend our expertise in traditional text and oral narratives that build relationships and earn the right to influence others.
Therefore, we believe that while aspects of public relations are morphing, adapting, and evolving with new technologies and new modes of communication, the core competence of public relations remains strong and unwavering.
Our job at the the PR Council will be to support our members with ways to accelerate their adaptation while bolstering their core DNA.
Christopher Graves is chairman of Ogilvy PR and chairman of the Council of PR Firms.