Flourishing PR Conversations about peaks and valleys, truths and opinions plus the plateau in between
One of my goals for the last few years was to travel west to Toronto’s High Park in time for the “peak” of the city’s blossoming Sakura cherry trees. Not only is the window of this optimum viewing time always small, but for most of this year’s April and May blooming days the weather was unseasonably cool and often overcast or raining. And though various media personalities waxed poetically about the Sakura blossoms’ peak viewing on Thursday, May 15 (other pundits pegged it at May 13), it was followed by days of intermittent precipitation, which was sure to knock down many of the beautiful-but-delicate blooms.
And yet the Victoria Day Monday was dawn-to-dusk warm and sunny; a bloomin’ good omen. So the journey, heigh-nonny-no, was back on!
You have to really want to see the Sakura cherry trees, the majority of which are centred in the middle of this vast park of 161 hectares (or 400 acres), which means a long trek with hordes of other Cherry Blossom Pilgrims from either the northern or southern entrances. Alternatively, one embarks on an extremely slow car crawl and then an often-fruitless search for a “close” parking space.
Readers might wonder was my goal attained and the time invested in the journey worthwhile?
No and yes.
Alas, the main winding walkway and canopy of Sakura cherry trees were already past their blooming prime…hope springs eternal to view the peak next year. On the other hand, further south into the park (close to the Grenadier Pond) I was able to find some isolated cherry trees in near-full elegant bloom, such as the one in the featured photo at the top of this post.
And the magnolia tree was magnificently at its peak, the Canada geese were swimmingly ponded and a microcosm of Toronto’s incredibly diverse population, very young to quite senior, were happily and chattily making full use of this public park in various ways—hiking and biking, fishing and picnicking—on this glorious holiday Monday, which Canadians deem the unofficial start to summer.
It was a beautiful, affective and communal afternoon and the amount of walking ensured a good night’s sleep.
Relating this abundant experience to PR Conversations
One might ask: Besides sharing what I did this past Monday and showing off my photography skills what exactly is the point of this post and how does it relate to public relations and this blog?
It is an analogy related to my ongoing goals for PR Conversations: To be a high point (of reference) for global-local and collective narratives and dialogue about our discipline’s current focus and directions. Yes, even a type of community, per Richard Bailey’s recent endorsement.
Not to mention best practices for organizational public relations and communication management, beyond commercial self-interest and aspirational thought leadership (particularly the type found in filter bubbles of confirmation bias, the current online buzzword relates it to one’s “community” which is the only ick-factor proviso to Bailey’s choice of word—and why I prefer to call PR Conversations a global “resource”).
Ergo, to connect the High Park adventure analogy to this post, I muse about whether we are we in a peak time, a spring of abundance related both to the authority and influence of public relations…or is our profession or craft in a time of decline, pushed out of the way by more-aggressive communication branches?
“Looking at the industry overall, it saddens me how social has been co-opted by marketing to become just another mass advertising/marketing channel. I think the promise of social is about relationship development, and I have always said that. All the talks I’ve given about Ford’s progress has concentrated on attention and trust. While advertising can get you the attention by interrupting people, it’s more important to build relationships with customers and other people you want to reach. And I think communications and marketing and customer service have to band together around social.”
I indicated how I thought Scott Monty (and a few others) were great “role” models for the “just right” amount of character/personality as an organization’s social public relations rep, back in my February 2012 column.
But back to the peak or decline concept—or hills or valleys—I suspect to a certain extent it depends upon where you cast your gaze (and affiliations) and spend the bulk of your time. When you look at collaborative documents produced by practitioners and academics affiliated with the Global Alliance—first the Stockholm Accords, later the Melbourne Mandate—even if aspirational, at least there’s the promise of legitimacy, particularly when quietly embraced and instituted by CCOs at major companies around the world.
On the other hand, reading through the chapters Heather Yaxley is reproducing (and commenting upon), authored by in-house and agency leaders from the 1948 book Your Public Relations, it seems that our collective authority, influence and fortunes have waned in the last 66 years and we are in a more utilitarian autumn of our craft. (Of course back in 1948 this was a male-dominated profession, so definitely it wasn’t 100 per cent peak perfect!)
And perhaps some of the decline relates to very vocal (usually smaller shop consultancies) marketers and book authors, relentlessly pushing their concepts of a shrivelled and small autumnal public relations, for example simply being about media relations and “spin” related to tactical marketing PR (also known as integrated marketing communications or marcom).
Oh, and the need to break down company silos and allow employees to be “empowered” in social and turned into an army of mini Marketing Me’s, bursting through the virtual gates that the controlling corporate communications department erected. Of course what these same marketers fail to admit to employees is that feeling empowered to broadcast is not the same thing as having a say in things that really matter or being in control of anything of consequence…. Or that the end result (per the above Scott Monty quote) does anything to help build relationships with consumers and other stakeholders.
First off, whether we are in an abundant public relations era or a period of decline needs not only to be examined and discussed honestly, but researched and measured. And it is my belief that we can’t simply have conversations amongst people who think exactly like we do; much better to debate with someone whose views are quite different, and if the dialogue is thoughtful and respectful, perhaps one or both moves the other’s needle of thought and action(s).
Likewise, this concept of flinging out buzzwords—like advocacy and engagement—as a way of declaring legitimacy for concepts that more likely derive from aspirational, untested opinion than skills, experience or proven strategies.
Per the first example, that’s why we decided to give Alan Kelly the PR Conversations platform to offer his point of view, Honestly, PR is dishonest, to a global readership. Kelly’s Op-Ed (and his responses to some of the commenters) was controversial to many, ruffling more than a few feathers. On the other hand, it has been one of the most-read posts in 2014, with many new visitors to PR Conversations. Plus the current number of thoughtful comments on this post is second only to the all-time leader, Terry Flynn’s (December 2011) A defining moment for public relations. Time will tell whether PR Conversations first half of 2014 comments will peak with this “dishonest” PR post!
Although I don’t think the experience—in particular the reactions—was anything like what Alan Kelly imagined it would be, he has been rather awed at his post’s impact (although less happy with some of the personal characterizations), and has thanked us for the opportunity.
I like to think of Kelly’s Op-Ed as being similar to the magnificent magnolia tree in High Park—although it wasn’t my main reason or first choice to make the journey, it definitely contributed positively to the afternoon’s adventure and to my feelings about High Park in general. And I will also say that I had the most “conversations” with total strangers that afternoon around the magnolia tree (photographed here), both asking questions and volunteering answers.
Dissecting some popular buzzwords
Regarding the concept of buzzwords, this is my advertorial for next week’s post, a joint undertaking between Italian Toni Muzi Falconi and New Zealander Helen Slater. One of the things I like best about their post is how they’ve selected some of the buzzwords that have been the focus (generally of the rant variety) of past posts and lively comment sections on PR Conversations. It’s also interesting that this is a blended contribution—some tart limoncella flavoured with kiwi, anyone?
And we’re also building in a crowdsourcing component, where people can weigh in on future buzzwords to be dissected, as I’m hoping we can convince the two of them to do this on a semi-regular basis.
Whether or not the public relations discipline or industry as a whole is in a declining autumn of influence, I can certainly cherry pick this moment and say that this Spring season (at least on my side of the equator) of PR Conversations posts and comments has blossomed beautifully, being abundantly fruitful and gratifying…even when the posts or comments were challenging.
And although I won’t speak for my co-content editor Heather Yaxley, I believe she feels similarly to me, based on a recent comment.