A few days ago I was invited by the Public Relations Global Network to give a 20’ present/onversation (…so I dubbed it) to a group of some 30 leaders of as many consultancies and as many countries who met in Milano for their by-annual conference each time in a different country.
The topic I chose to address in agreement with Anne Buchanan, leader of the network and Alessandra Malvermi, head of the Italian agency member of the network is:
while you all work hard, this is what research round the world is trying to do
and here is the ppt presentation which visitors might be interested in seeing while-we-all-work-hard.ppt
The core of this is that I attempted to summarize in a nutshell where research around the world appears to be heading to, conceptualizing a new and different public relations practice model, while professionals day in and day out struggle to make sense of their more traditional and consolidated practices.
After the lively q&a session, I sat down at lunch next to Joe Ledlie, a charming and seasoned professional based in Atlanta, Georgia.
Our conversation arrived to an issue which is usually rather trite: how poorly the term public relations is perceived in various organizations in diverse countries who prefer to call the function differently. So what else is new?
I mentioned to him that, in a recent interview -also posted in http://www.prconversations.com/?p=48 (from which this blog stemmed)- Harold Burson had given me the following interpretation:
….I believe the worst thing that has happened to public relations was the change of the
descriptor of what we do from public relations to communications, which many of us passively accepted even though it reinforced the media’s concept of what we do.
Think of this:
° in 1973 some 80% of the Fortune 500 companies included the words “public relations” in the title of their senior-most public relations officer;
°comes 1980, and not more than 15/20% had the words “public relations” in the title of their senior-most public relations officer. the others having changed their to Senior VP Communications or Public Affairs.
What happened…you ask?
My explanation is that the pervasive world wide media accounts in 1973/1974 of the Watergate tapes -in which President Nixon continuously referred to pr every time he suggested to his aides some illegal, or even unethical action to cover up the scandal – served to undermine the reputation of public relations….
Joe Ledlie was not aware of this and, being an ex journalist from the Atlanta Journal before entering into public relations, he recalled that period very well and seemed to agree with Harold’s reminiscence.
We then went on to talk of other issues and suddenly he quipped back and said something like:
‘you know what, Toni? Harold is dead on…now that I think about it I begin to understand why this rotten legacy of the pr nomenklature continues to haunt us today…. It is all a media thing. Journalists who where then in their late teens in college or early twenties learning their job in newsrooms, gobbled and digested Woodward and Bernstein’s ‘All the Presidents Men’ as the quintessential expression of pure journalism, and they must have planted that negative stereotype of public relations in their dna…. This could be a good key for a piece of research for one of your better students?’.
Not a bad idea. The hypothesis could be verified by qualitative interviews with a selected sample of senior journalists from the serious media and -if confirmed- lead to a factual article published, say, in the Columbia Jouornalism Review which would certainly have some impact on the stereotypes of the newer generation…..possibly and hopefully contributing to modifying the nixonite stereotype of pr.