Everything is average nowadays…

Are the  correct?  Does this criticism apply equally to public relations? Is Matthew Stibbe right to feel “PR doesn’t work” and needs a fundamental change?

Are too many practitioners and PR firms content to be average?  As a profession do we have a common failure to use new media, produce dreadful press releases, abuse surveys, lack understanding of bloggers, fail to recognise what makes a good story, habitually lie and abuse case studies?

I’ve found that in blogging about PR it is definitely easier to find examples of the mediocre rather than the brilliant or exceptional.  Very little seems to deviate successfully from the norm.

I think such criticisms are wider than PR alone – it is hard to see signs that most people are aspiring to be better than average.  But that’s the problem with an average – it is what is common, the norm, the mid-point.   

It takes courage and commitment to deliver above average – to exceed expectations, to throw away the book of rules, to just do something else.

The fundamental change – not exclusively for PR practitioners – has to be to strive for higher standards in everything we do.    That will, of course, simply shift the average (to be statistically pedantic), but we should seek to stretch the away from the .

Are you happy to cluster closely around the average?  Most PR practitioners have the potential to exceed the routine or mundane in their activities.  What’s stopping us from being better than the of the fluffy PR totty or antagonistic spin doctor?  Why are we content that our work reflects so many of the clichéd criticisms? 

Does everything have to be average nowadays?

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.

8 thoughts on “Everything is average nowadays…”

  1. I think all too often, trying to rise above the average means confronting powerful forces that prefer the status quo. The boss who won’t countenance an increase in budget, the client who doesn’t understand that writing well doesn’t mean trotting out business cliches and techno-jargon, the agency traffic manager who tries to get 25 hours work done in every 24. Change is very difficult, in our personal lives as well as in business.

    I think perhaps it is also true that the ubiquity of PR these days means that techniques that once worked well suffer from diminishing returns. The public and the press are cynical and wary. Also, every small organisation and a surprising number of individuals think they need PR representation. Whereas it seems to work best (in my experience) for very large businesses in conjunction with a range of other marcomms actvities. In this case, the averageness of PR works in their favour. Keep throwing mud at the wall and eventually you get modern art.

  2. It’s interesting what Lee Skittrell, the computer games PR insider, linked through the abuse of surveys link on the Matthew Stibbe page says. He says that follow-up phone calls of press releases are a must, in the games industry at least. And for his company, Bastion, it helps cement journo/PRs relationships.

    You often see journalists criticising PR practitioners for following up press releases with phone calls, but, one can see, that in certain industries it is essential.

    Too much of what we do well gets swallowed up amongst the gripes.

  3. I’ve always liked the old maxim, be first, be daring, be different – although by definition that is becoming harder to follow. However, as a maxim it still holds good.

  4. Matthew – the comfort zone is the killer for anyone seeking to be better than average and change can be seen as risky rather than exciting.

    As Richard also indicates, you are right to show that techniques do suffer from diminishing returns. But I believe that done well, there is always a new perspective that can be added to even the old favourites.

    Audiences are cynical, and we need to take this into account in our communications. Hence the need for simplicity and honesty – which in itself can be refreshingly different and certainly isn’t the norm.

    I agree that not everyone needs “PR representation” in the press agentry/Max Clifford mould. But, managing a good reputation, professional communications and building equality in relationships does apply to all organisations and should derive from an understanding of genuine public relations, not the bling-bling “free press coverage” philosophy that is often inappropriate for smaller organisations and sold to them by the “press release” as product.

    Although PR in a marcomms context is important, the real advantage, especially in large organisations, is more than media relations – particularly when that is delivered as mediocrity from in-house or highly paid consultancies.

    Jill – although I agree that relationships with journalists are key, I wouldn’t advocate the “phone after sending release” approach. If you work in a specialist sector, then you need to maintain regular contact with your key media, but this can involve selling in stories rather than “have you got my release” and other opportunities where you can better deliver on each others’ requirements.

  5. Although a highly controversial statement to make, I fear that there are pressures to find the safety zone. At university students try to find out what the lecturer wants and they do it, this then follows through into a work ethic and onwards. There are the few that stick their head above the parapet but they are few and often exceptional in some way. But based on the marking etc you just get the feeling that many think how do I play safe prior to thinking how can I stretch myself, the reader, my client.

    Though perhaps a post modernist would argue that to excel at work is not the priority but we stand out in other ways; some have a second life where they are radical, I new a barrister who at weekends was a very radical gothic punk with full make-up (the old version of second life). So perhaps safety or emdiocrity in work conceals a radical alter-ego that can dare to be different outside of the constriants of conservatism

  6. Darren – I tend to agree. Perhaps too much guidance is given on what is expected for students and also practitioners. Maybe it is the result of the “receiver-oriented” perspective; if we ask people what they want and deliver it, we aren’t thinking about exceeding their expectations, simply meeting them.

    I quite like the post-modernist viewpoint about excelling in other ways, but again it is disappointing that the status-quo approach leads to mainstream mediocrity just where we need the gothic punk perspectives most.

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