If PR is not more than flower arranging, hit delete now

Richard Edelman has a fascinating post that links into his Grunig Lecture (courtesy of Judy Gombita).   What is good about this kind of reflection is that it comes from someone heading up a major consultancy group – which it is to be hoped would be influenced by the insight of its figurehead.

Often those of us who reflect on PR can feel like we are far removed from the behaviour and thinking of “practitioners”, but I truly believe we are in tune with what bosses would genuinely like their PR team to offer.

Of course, there are still tactical delivery issues as not everyone has the opportunity to work at the strategic end, counselling senior executives.  And in respect of consultancies, such as Edelman, they focus on delivering campaigns to meet client needs.

But PR implementation becomes more effective when it is guided by strategic approaches that support aspects such as public engagement which Richard speaks about.

Every press release, every event, every comment to the media, every webpage or blog comment, every speech, every campaign, indeed, everything we do as practitioners will be improved if it reflects a business strategy that has been informed by insight, not simply habit.

I am currently reviewing the portfolios of a number of students who undertook work experience in PR last year.  What is already noticeable is the solely tactical nature of much of the activity undertaken in the organisations for which they worked (they do tend to be employed primarily in press offices). 

Perhaps the majority of press releases are written and events planned because that’s what the departments always do.  It reminds me of the adage of rearranging the deckchairs whilst the Titanic sunk – or the insult of “flower arrangers” that I still hear applied to those in PR.  Are we too busy being pretty to be useful too?

There is little evidence of research or reflection in planning a lot of what PR practitioners do – let alone a commitment to evaluating its outcomes. 

As Richard says at the start of his presentation:

the world has changed in a fundamental way, requiring reassessment of communications strategy and programming

Those who heard Richard and were prepared to listen and learn about the new opportunities for PR, undoubtedly face a good career ahead.  Those who continue to focus on tactics without any real meaning will face the same fate as much of their work – it’s called the delete button.

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

4 thoughts on “If PR is not more than flower arranging, hit delete now”

  1. Hi Heather, as usual, you provide needed insight into challenges the profession faces. I would guess that the students you mention are probably doing more tactical work because they are essentially entry level and expected to learn the ropes from the ground up.

    However, you point to a continuing challenge that professionals face. When does one wake up and magically become a “strategic counselor?”

    At the University of South Florida, where I teach, all PR majors take a required case study class, but the emphasis on strategic thinking seems so far away to them. Of course, the class helps them understand the totality of a campaign — from initial research through evaluation — but many of them will be tasked with maintaing project calendars and building media relation skills early in their careers, with some distance from strategic concepts.

    I fear that too many young professionals get so caught up in the daily grind that they don’t get the kind of hands-on strategic training necessary to really move up the ladder down the road.

    Thanks for raising such interesting questions about how we train young practitioners.

  2. Our Case Studies class, much like the one Bob teaches at USF, focuses on those critical “why” questions. We reinforce this critical thinking in each of our skills courses by requiring mini-plans with clearly stated goals and objectives — even for a simple news release.

    It may be 5 years before our grads are asked for strategic counsel, but they have the opportunity to apply strategy to all that they do — and to all the questions they raise in the process. And yes, this critical thinking can even apply to flower arranging, sort of.

    A fun story: I was once in charge of a grand opening for a tony new country club. Our event targeted wealthy couples, and included personalized tours of the golf course. The tour route was dotted with portable toilets to ensure the comfort of our guests, as the event also included lots of adult beverages.

    When our division president arrived to inspect, her first order of business was to check each and every one of the women’s port-a-lets to ensure they were equipped with hand sanitizer, deodorizers, and fresh flowers. We were asking our guests to pay a $50,000 initiation fee to join this club. Our emphasis on elegance extended from the clubhouse to the crappers. Strategy is everywhere!

    (Thanks to Judy Gombita for linking me back to Greenbanana today. I’ve been away too long!)

  3. I got to the second round for an in-house (entry level and salaried accordingly) communications assistant job recently and I was given a very short brief and asked to put together a strategy to raise awareness of fundraising initiatives and waiting lists for a care home.

    I did it as if I was doing a plan for my advanced certificate with objectives I could measure etc. Measuring awareness is extremely difficult; however they liked my plan and said they’d have gone about it in the same way.

    This shows that some employers are expecting great things from CIPR members as they fully endorsed the code of conduct and were fully conversant with the CIPR, were all members and were very interested in my qualification.

    They wanted a strategic thinker; this is good!

  4. Thanks – great to hear from Jill when employers recognise the value of someone beig able to be a strategic thinker.

    I suppose part of my observations on the placement students is that, like Jill, they have studied strategic planning, but maybe being younger and less experienced, they haven’t made the connections about putting it into place.

    Recently at the Euprera Congress, Anne Gregory said, a little tongue in cheek, that she felt we should only teach PR to those aged over 25.

    Perhaps her view emphasises the need to have more experience as well as education before the penny begins to drop.

    Bill – your talk about strategy and toilets brought back nightmare memories of organising an event in Istanbul. The location was ideal for our awards ceremony, except in one detail – the loos. As it was a centuries old church that had been opened especially for our event, we weren’t allowed to have portable toilets. We had the ones there cleaned and did out best, but they did not impress the wife of our client.

    Mind you, it was also an event where the ‘entertainment’ (a troupe of whirling dervishers) were supposed to perform for 30 minutes, and 90 minutes later were still whirling. No wonder the toilets couldn’t cope!!

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