PR people need cat food at the top table

image Leo Bottary makes an interesting point in his post: The Kid’s Table regarding PR people who moan about not being taken seriously – challenging them to grow up and engage in more adult dialogue.

However, I’m not convinced that the “adult dialogue” about PR can be found in the Stockholm Accords which have been robustly interrogated by Paul Seaman.  These seek:

to articulate and establish the role of public relations in the “communicative organization” within a fast-evolving digital and value-network society

What bothers me about both types of “reflection” on public relations is that they portray a particular viewpoint of PR as deserving to be at the “top table” as a goal in itself.  I am reminded of Betteke van Ruler’s paper: Are PR Pros From Venus and Scholars From Mars?

This notes that the view of PR as a profession amongst academics and associations is largely about knowledge and status, whilst practitioners focus on competition and personality.  The result of which is often muddle and a lack of external perception of PR as professional, let alone a profession.

Complaining publicly about your lot – or seeking to create a tidy box in which to define the role of PR, seem to me of little  value for those working in public relations – or those who employ our services.

If you want to be treated as a professional practitioner, then behave like one – but don’t take yourself so seriously that you forget the real world is dynamic, complicated and messy.

Of course, it is important for senior PR practitioners to be respected sufficiently to deliver strategic advice based on critical reflection of emerging issues and established relationships with key stakeholders, ensuring effective reputation management.

But it is equally important for PR practitioners to be competent professionals in everything they do.

The recent Icelandic volcanic ash presented a challenge to many PR practitioners – and it was great to read journalist Richard Aucock’s post: BMW PR shows professionalism of industry.

I was equally impressed reading the column in the Daily Mirror: One question left… Howe the hell did Eddie achieve promotion with Bournemouth? This praises the PR “boss” at the Football Club – Niall Malone – who is a 2nd year undergraduate PR student at  Bournemouth University.

Which brings me to the cat food – and Simon’s Cat.  Anyone who has owned or knows a cat recognises the behaviour that Simon Tofield has captured in his amusing cartoons.  But cats don’t need definitions of what they are about or to go to brand awareness courses to reflect “best practice” cat behaviour.

For me, the best PR people don’t spend their time defining the profession or worrying about how to get to the top table.  I’m certainly not knocking gaining a qualification – but that means nothing without the ability to practice public relations.  And practice without clarity of rationale behind what you are doing is equally pointless.

I don’t know who first coined the phrase “we’re not human doings, we’re human beings” – but that applies to public relations in my view.  You don’t do professional PR, you need to be a professional PR – and if that means eating cat food…

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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.