PR Industry: Fall Back, or Spring Forward

My relationship with PRSA – the Public Relations Society of
America – goes back to 1994 when I first got into the business. As a
journalist, I belonged to the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and was
even president of the University of Missouri chapter, so I was no stranger to
trade organizations.

Both groups talked about visionary things. But talking is
not the same as embracing or implementing. And after a few years in the PR
business, I learned that PRSA, or at least the Orange County, CA chapter, was
more interested in giving out awards than preparing its members for the tidal
wave that was approaching and eventually overcame them in the late ‘90s, also
known as the Internet.

So here I am, about to speak at a couple PRSA events in San
Diego, and little has changed. Too many in the industry talk about “social
media” as if it’s something that can be harnessed or “owned” by PR, when all
around them every type of agency you can think of, from every discipline, is
ignoring traditional barriers of what is PR, what is advertising, what is
customer service, or what is media itself.

Far too many PR practitioners reduce communications to “tools”
– things with which to communicate. The PR industry, by and large, wants
shortcuts. It wants technology to take the place of actual engagement, rather
than to serve as a means to communicate in new, powerful, personal ways.
Ultimately, it seems many in the industry don’t want to talk directly to
consumers, but instead do what they’ve always done – talk to third parties and
intermediaries to carry their clients’ messages.

So here’s the challenge to my colleagues gathering in San
Diego this weekend – stop talking about what you should be doing. Stop trying
to protect your industry and start changing it.

We are living in a new time, it’s getting darker faster. In
many ways we have fallen back.

And yet, there is still plenty of time for the PR industry
and PRSA to spring forward. Let’s not blow it.

The clock is ticking.

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