PRoust Questionnaire: Fraser Likely

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The PRoust Questionnaire provides a quick insight into a public relations practitioner’s interests and point of view, as well as his or her professional beliefs and values.

If you are not familiar with the original 19th-century Proust Questionnaire, please see details at the end of this post.

PRoust Questionnaire answers from Fraser Likely:

1. What is your most striking characteristic as a PR practitioner?

An on-going desire to contribute expertise at the strategic level (rather than tactical and creative one).

2. What is your principal fault as a PR practitioner?

Ambivalence.

Does an organization need a PR function? If exhibiting the right behaviours, should an organization need a PR function to talk about those behaviours? It’s doubtful. If an organization is not exhibiting the right behaviours, then PR has a role. But, if the role is simply to “message” already proper behaviours, then PR is like an appendix—unnecessary.

I’m sure there are many people who disagree.

3. What is your favourite occupation in PR?

Advising senior management in:

  • bringing intelligence forward
  • presenting analysis; and
  • building forward-moving scenarios

4. Why do you work in PR?

Currently I don’t actually “do” PR. For the last two decades, I’ve advised chief communication officers (CCOs) on organizational design, capacity building and performance measurement on behalf of their public relations departments. Much earlier in my PR career I realized this role was one of the—if not best—vantage points for participating in organizational decision making.

5. What is your idea of PR nirvana?

Participating with other PR thought leaders in brainstorming sessions and discussion groups. Groups like the Global Alliance (GA), AMEC and especially the Institute for Public Relations (IPR) bring together respected thinkers from around the world.

And, if it’s in Katie Paine’s house—big nirvana bonus!

6. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery in PR?

I feel for practitioners who enjoy their craft, specialty and creativeness and who love producing “product.” Yet, when push comes to shove in PR departments and/or organizations, often they find what they produce and have crafted for years is regarded as just another commodity that can be discarded. It’s absolute misery to discover your product is not indispensable to the organization.

7. What qualities do you most admire in a PR practitioner?

Being able to speak truth to power.

8. What qualities do you most dislike in a PR practitioner?

Practitioners who see this profession as only being about communication.

9. Who would you describe as a PR hero or villain?

My heroes include Jim and Lauri Grunig; Katie Paine; Lou Williams; the late Pat Jackson; Don Hoskins. And, of course, Benita Steyn.

10. What do you most value in your professional contacts?

Brilliance and self-effacement.

11. Have you ever been influenced by a PR campaign?

Of course—but I can’t tell you which one. A good PR campaign should not leave a trail. Therefore, I’m certain I’ve been influenced but without consciously knowing that I was. Is that why I drink Côtes du Rhône wines?

12. Where would you most like to practise PR?

In the CEO or chair’s office.

13. Has a novel, film, play or other work of fiction ever influenced you as a PR practitioner?

I cried when seeing To Sir with Love. I’m still waiting for my clients to break out in song.

14. Who do you think has great public relations?

The plutocrats: the 0.01 per cent of the one per cent. Heck, in the USA they have the whole Republican party pitching for them.

15. Which real, historical or fictional person or brand would you like to give a reputation makeover?

The question suggests I hold different thoughts about a person or brand than do the majority of others—which defines “reputation” as what others think of you.

I’d rephrase the question to: What person or brand do you think more positively about than the majority of people?

There is only one answer that everyone would have to give: myself.

16. Who is your favourite writer?

I love Venice. Whenever I get the opportunity to travel there I read Donna Leon’s easy-reading mysteries set in that city.

17. What one thing is essential to your PR life?

My dog, Skipper. Forced by a two-walks-a-day clause in his contract (he has a good lawyer), I get an invaluable opportunity for fresh oxygen, plus unencumbered thinking and strategizing time.

18. Groucho Marx is quoted as saying he’d never join a club that would have him as a member. Which PR club, association or tribes do you belong to—and why?

I’ll name my primary one: the Institute for Public Relations International Communication on PR Measurement and Evaluation.

Why, initially? Because Jim Grunig took a chance and the rest of the elected members were asleep at the wheel, that day. Now? More than a decade later, I’m an emeritus member and continue to learn from each discussion we hold. Plus I continue to try and push the envelope by playing the role of spoon.

19. Where do you most like to do your professional networking?

Wherever there are faces: face-to-face.

20. What’s the best career decision you ever made?

Taking a big gulp and incorporating my own company, Likely Communication Strategies.

21. What skills and abilities do you think tomorrow’s PR leaders need?

Guts.

22. Which talent would you most like to have?

To be able to sing…well or at least passably.

23. How would you like to end your PR career?

Alive.

24. How would you describe the current state of public relations?

The coming together of international thought leaders in so many different forums is encouraging. The question is: While we have the floats, is there really a parade behind them? There is a history in our field of the association and think-tank heads—as well as academics—being disengaged from the masses of practitioners.

My hope is the typical practitioner also participates in—or at least observes—the “new thinking” coming from organizations such as the GA, AMEC, IPR, etc., as involvement and examination possibilities are much greater today than ever before. Though some prominent thought leaders might be perceived as elitist, this shouldn’t foster a general feeling that the typical practitioner is simply a sheep being led to a new grass-is-greener pasture.

25. What is your PR motto?

Keep your stick on the ice!

The source is an ice hockey analogy: You won’t score if your hockey stick is not in the play, on the ice where the puck is. You can’t have game, if you are not placing yourself in to the game action.

Fraser Likely’s answer to #6. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery in PR? inspired (past guest contributor) Diane K. Rose to write her own post, Are You Indispensable?

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Fraser Likely, APR, FCPRS, based in Ottawa, Canada, works with chief communication officers on a PR department’s organizational design, capacity-building, performance measurement and strategic capabilities. He has been an adjunct professor at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Fraser is involved in numerous international bodies and has presented at conferences held by the GA, PRSA, IABC, IPRRC, CPRS and Bledcom. He co-leads a team of researchers, sponsored by the IABC Research Foundation, conducting a global study of the factors that influence a PR department’s organizational structure. On the ice, delusional, he sees himself as a gifted hockey strategist, with a playmaker’s soft hands.

Contact him by email.

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The PRoust Questionnaire was originally designed to reveal one’s personality. Its name and popularity as a form of interview has roots in the responses given by the French writer, Marcel Proust. His first set of responses came at the end of the nineteenth century, when he was still in his teens (from an English-language “confession album”).

For PR Conversations we have adapted this original idea with questions that offer a public relations’ perspective. It is fun to compare and contrast responses as the series grows. (See below.)

If you would like to be invited to complete our PRoust Questionnaire for posting on PR Conversations, please visit our Crowdsourcing suggestion form.

Earlier PRoust Questionnaire respondents:

Jane Tchan

Sean Williams

Al Clarke

Léa Werthman

Estelle de Beer

Don Radoli

Toni Muzi Falconi

Richard Bailey

Jane Jordan-Meier

Nelly Benova

Peter Stanton

Mat Wilcox

Anne Gregory

Markus Pirchner

Heather Yaxley

Judy Gombita

14 COMMENTS

  1. Fraser – interesting answers. But I wonder why you seem to be equating PR with tactical operations as you say that you don’t “do PR” and also muse on the issues for craft-oriented practitioners who may not be respected by their employers. This implies a distinction between strategic and operational PR where surely the two are connected – and indeed, there is a need for PR to be able to offer the type of counsel you advocate within a framework of the occupation, not by distinguishing between ‘doing’ PR and advising on it.

  2. Thanks for commenting, Heather. Given the requirement for short answers, there may have been an idea or two that fell through the cracks. As a result, you have read things into my answers that were not intended.

    First, I don’t value tactical PR more than strategic, nor strategic more than tactical. Both are – or should be – part of a single package. Second, when I say I don’t do PR, as a consultant I don’t do or advise on either the strategic or the tactical. I advise from a management not PR consulting perspective: how a PR department can become strategic as a contributor to the strategic management process of the organization itself; how the department is organized and has the capacity to deliver both strategic and tactical services; and how the department meets performance expectations and measures its performance.

    If you re-read what I have said, understanding my role as a management consultant to CCOs and PR departments, you’ll get a different appreciation of what I was trying to say. I approached the questions not from a doing PR but from a managing PR perspective. What do you think?

  3. Appreciate the constraints of the format here, and thank you for your clarification. I still find it interesting that you seem to present consultancy regarding the management of PR as something outside of the discipline. You say your role is as a ‘management consultant’ rather than a ‘PR management consultant’.

    The reason for focusing on this point is that I am interested in how PR managers appear to limit their career ambitions to being a departmental head (albeit normally with the aspiration of a board position). Within PR, we do not seem to see the function as a platform to being the CEO, for example, and hence restrict our competencies to what you describe as ‘doing’ PR strategy, rather than ‘doing’ strategic management with a PR perspective.

    During a webinar run by PR Academy yesterday evening featuring Professors Danny Moss and Barbara De Santon (see: http://pracademy.adobeconnect.com/p3w1zd9ojh2/), there was debate about the management role of PR. This included reflection on how management consultants are presenting themselves in the role you describe (external experts advising on the function) – plus the ongoing recruitment of journalists into senior PR management roles (especially in agencies).

    As my interest is particularly in career strategies in PR, it seems to me that we should be championing senior practitioners as strategic management consultants (whether in-house or external), rather than seeing their competencies in terms of ‘doing’ strategic PR.

    I appreciate that again I’ve probably taken this further than you intended in the original post or comment, but find it an interesting area to explore with you.

  4. Thanks again for finding what I’ve said interesting, Heather. Let me take your comments one-by-one from the bottom up.

    ” … taken this further than you intended …” – yes, you have. But, I’m game if you’re interested.

    ” … championing senior practitioners as strategic management consultants …” – This is really what my consulting practice is all about. My work with CCOs is to help review and then build the capacities, the service offerings, the competencies, the organizational structures and the planning and performance frameworks necessary to play a strategic role.

    “… Danny Moss …” – I’m working with Danny right now on a major international research study. He’s brilliant! You are lucky to have him in the UK. Unfortunately, I haven’t worked with Barbara.

    ” … management consultants are presenting themselves in the role you describe (external experts advising on the function) …” – Typically, management consulting firms don’t have the PR function management expertise in-house. Our functional area is too small to warrant in-house specialization. It’s been my experience that CCOs say that they don’t receive much value when management consulting firms conduct a project for them because the management consulting firm does not have the depth of knowledge about the uniqueness of a PR function or the role it can play in an organization. On the other hand, PR consulting agencies do not have management consulting expertise in-house. PR management consulting projects are outside of their typical business lines and usually one-offs. While they understand the uniqueness of the function and the role it can play, they don’t have the specialized management consulting tools to add value to a project. Simply, the function is too small for decent sized management consulting firms and PR agencies to employ full-time in-house expertise.

    ” … ongoing recruitment of journalists into senior PR management roles (especially in agencies) …” – I can’t speak for agencies but my experience is that former journalists in the new role of CCO have a very steep learning curve. Some can hack it; many fall by the wayside. Many journalists haven’t had operational management, strategic management and leadership opportunities. While they might deal with issues, crises and media relations well in the shorter term, it is a more difficult task to re-build the mandate, roles and value of the PR department within the senior management cadre.

    ” … limit their career ambitions to being a departmental head … ‘doing’ PR strategy, rather than ‘doing’ strategic management with a PR perspective.” – In the questionnaire above, I gave two answers that apply here: Guts; and Practitioners who see this profession as only being about communication. I have had the pleasure of working with quite a number of CCOs who saw their role and their department’s role as being about contributing to the making of business decisions, not simply communication decisions. Truly, years ago, when I ran a PR department, that’s how I saw my role. Certainly, that was my interest: bringing intelligence, ideas and insight to major organizational decisions. Now, a CCO can’t play this role in an ad hoc way. A CCO needs to have the capabilities, infrastructure and mechanisms in place in her department to aggregate and sort intelligence, create and weigh ideas and identify and question insight. I believe this desire to play this more ‘strategic management’ role is one sought by most CEOs. I would suggest that most of the CEOs who participated in the Excellence Study had this role in mind when they were asked the ‘value’ PR contributed to their organization.

    ” … You say your role is as a ‘management consultant’ rather than a ‘PR management consultant’.” – Sorry, I thought I was clear: “I approached the questions not from a doing PR but from a managing PR perspective.” I am a PR management consultant. By that I mean, I’m somewhere between a management firm consultant and a PR agency consultant. But, as you note, my research, my writing, my conference presentations and my committee work is all within the PR field. As I said above, the PR department is smaller in most organizations than other operational or functional areas. Therefore, it is a niche area for consulting. To be of the greatest value to CCOs, a PR management consultant must have both excellent management knowledge as well as excellent understanding of the PR function itself.

    Hope these answers are helpful.

  5. For a person who professes to be ambivalent (answer to Q.2), you are specific about what PR should or should not be. At your level the strategic focus is indeed appropriate, but for entry level and middle management the tactical focus is indeed predominant.

    I would also advise young PR folks not to take up your advice to speak truth to power until they’ve facts to back up their truth.

    Otherwiser thanks for “raising the bar” about strategic PR thinking.

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