What exactly does ‘excellence’ mean in public relations? Is it something to be achieved by anyone following a particular approach (as implied by the Model of Excellence), or demonstrated by those recognised by the industry (such as winners of the CIPR Excellence Awards)?
My dictionary equates the term with ‘extremely good’ or ‘pre-eminent; which are different things. The former suggests excellence is a performance standard – a level to be reached that is probably acknowledged as the highest quality. It is a peak to be attained; a credential of competence.
But to be pre-eminent is comparative – indicating superiority to others, winning the gold medal, better than all the rest. It can only be achieved by one, or possibly a few; although perhaps only by those who put themselves forward or have the profile to be picked out for praise.
In both these uses, excellence is an end goal; somewhere to rest on your laurels. It is a ‘good enough’ place – but shouldn’t the bar for excellence get raised and the winner challenged for their crown? Is that the purpose of a centre of excellence – to provide leadership, research into best practices, a quest for something perhaps unattainable – the pursuit of a never-to-be-achieved perfection? Where is the centre of excellence for public relations?
I like to think of excellence as a attitude; the spirit of Kaizen (a philosophy of continuous improvement). Aristotle considered three paths of excellence: personal, intellectual and interpersonal. These suggest excellence is something individual: arete, the act of living up to one’s full potential. Aristotle is quoted as stating excellence is a habit; implying a need to focus on the small things you do in life and execute to the best of your ability. Is that what excellence in public relations should involve? Not the glitzy attention-grabbing campaigns, but the continuous delivery of excellence in everything?
Karl Anders Ericsson wrote “The Road to Excellence” – analysing how elite performers deliver excellent accomplishments, and praising practice over innate talent. It echoes with my starting point for anyone who wants to be a better writer – that you need to read and write as much as you possibly can. I believe the same applies to every aspect of public relations and particularly, using your brain.
But I’d like excellence to mean more than that. To be really truly exceptional we need to take giant leaps, not neat little steps to perfection. Not just being good enough, better than others or even better than you were yesterday, but achieving big, hairy audacious goals. I’d like to see leaders in public relations pushing the practice to achieve this sense of excellence – being bold and demanding, but also driving from the front. Where are our ambitions for excellence in public relations?
I have the same desire for those engaged in public relations education – I want to see the smartest, most intelligent people choosing a career in public relations – and not stopping there. This too involves bigger ambitions; stretching our young practitioners not simply to be competent on the job, but to celebrate a standard of education that makes them soar intellectually and challenge poor practices, unethical behaviour and mediocre measures of ‘excellence’. They should aspire to be entrepreneurs, chief executives, change agents in society, renowned writers and sought after advisors.
For myself, I’m tired of often not even being good, let alone excellent in everything I do. I plan to stop doing so much, do less, but do it to the highest standard – and then make it better still. Life shouldn’t be measured in deadlines; a quick pause when a project is delivered before hurtling along to the next due date. When I look behind me, I want to feel I’ve lived up to my potential, and encouraged others to excel, surpass and reach new heights.
As a child, I lived near a Hippodrome Circus – a magical place where we watched the performances at least once every Summer. It assaulted your senses, seemed dangerous and exciting – and great fun too. The amazing acts required hours of practice to perfect. Drawing on those experiences, I want to breathe deeply, enjoy the moment and leap, like a trapeze artist to feel the adrenaline and elation. No longer do I want to be the frazzled plate-spinner – always rushing from pole to pole, hopefully catching each before it crashes to the ground. That’s my metaphor for public relations.
But one thing I learned from those circus performers – even when the audience was barely a handful of people – they gave their all. And when things didn’t go right, they got up again and carried on. More practice, more daring, dangerous leaps, more plates to be spun… Roll up, roll up, come see the amazing search for excellence in public relations.