Is it public or publics? Is it communication or relationships? Is it media relations or is it stakeholder relationships? A candid confrontation with Jack O’Dwyer
In these days I have been exchanging some interesting views with Jack O’Dwyer. We respect each other but have different opinions. I asked Jack if he authorized me to post a part of out debate in order to stimulate other visitors from around the world to comment and/or criticize. Here we go:
Jack writes: Instead of being oriented to various audiences, PR should be speaking the truth and giving everyone the same facts. Marketing people love to break up the public into lots of pieces. It’s “divide and conquer.”….. ….As to the value of PR, you can’t just figure out salaries and multiply that by three (this is a reference to my economic impact paper for the IPR…se previous post..toni). You get too small a number. Information is of priceless value. A good placement can result in hundreds of millions in sales. One example is the Cabbage Patch dolls of the early 1980s. Dick Weiner got the dolls on TV and sales exploded. All he got was less than $100,000 for his efforts. A single fact can change your life. You can’t put a dollar value on information. The U.S. along with many other countries is willing to torture people to get a few facts. PR people today are frightened by the explosion of factual sources including blogs, social media, employees squealing like mad on their companies and reporting abuses in the marketplace (plus the legit press). This is a frightening time to be in PR. The press has exploded in size and influence and now the average citizen is pitching in. There’s no place for the secretive to hide any more.Toni replies: There is no public as such, there are many publics. Even if you wish to restrict the pr profession to media relations (and of course I do not go along with this..) each media has its own public, so there are always different publics, and journalists are the interpretative filters we in some instances relate with. Publics are those which are formed in order to induce consequences on an organization (public, private or social), or which form when an organization induces consequences on them. I prefer to use the term stakeholders to avoid the interpretation you (and many others) give to the term public…in relations, as if public relations was the opposite of private relations (or employee or internal relations, for that matter), whereas at its best it means relationships with publics. I also do not agree that pr should give everyone the same facts. This is in principle correct, but it must always be qualified by the fact that one of the major pr skills is to cater the same facts in a different way to each public (theoretically each individual… but with social media, always more possible), according to its specific expectations which must be analysed and scrutinized before…otherwise our job would only to be a wire service or a mail box… Furthermore you seem to be missing the most relevant of values public relations brings to an organization which is to listen to stakeholders in order to change the organization and not its communication….
…I do agree that the value of public relations differs greatly, but not that of the professional. Her/his value is similar to that of any other professional and economists tend to agree that this could be three times the gross annual cost. You see Jack, I have an organizational and systemic vision of the profession…i.e. even if I work for an actor or a politician I need to see my client as an organization. An organization is a complex web of relationships between those who participate in its activities and those who are called on or who decide to do so on their own. And this is where public relations comes in the picture in that it helps the organization improve its relationship systems with stakeholders. Communication is only a tool through which the organization relates with its stakeholders. Jack comes back: My large Webster’s Dictionary defines public as “The people as a whole.” The public is not divisible. The public votes for the president of the U.S., for instance, not publics. A lot of PR people use the word audience or audiences. With this talk of “licensing” and “publics,” PR is sliding backwards. It’s becoming very reactionary. We’re back to the Robber Barons of the early 1900’s (Worldcom, Enron, etc.). People don’t want “relationships” with companies they want the facts, the best prices, etc. PR people are communications “professionals” and as such should deal with other communications professionals in the press. It’s illegal for a lawyer to start pulling legalese or threatening or anything on a layperson. The lawyer must deal with another lawyer who is wise to all the shenanigans of lawyers and their lingo. Prize fighters who throw a punch in a bar can be hit with a felony and imprisoned. They’re only supposed to throw punches at other fights. Same with PR. Advertising’s job is to convince people while PR’s job is to convince reporters, a completely different job. Ivy Lee back in 1906 promised that the function of PR people was to answer the questions of the press “most cheerfully.” PR people should do this now that they have set themselves up as the only people in a company the press can deal with. PR is “public debate,” the highest thing someone can do in America. Our nation was founded on that principle. The debate is supposed to be “robust” because that’s how truth is arrived at. We have slid back to the English and European model where someone can be sued for libel and slander and their motives plumbed to see if they were “malicious.” Of course they were malicious. The saying in the U.S. used to be, “Sticks and stones can break my bones but names can never hurt me.” This gives a lot of work to the lawyers.
PR and ad people trying to control “messages” today are engulfed by a tsunami of information from the media, which have exploded while PR cringes from media contact, the internet, blogs, e-mails, etc. Employees are ready to squeal to the press any infraction of their companies. This is a frightening time to be in PR. Of course, the worst example is Bush lying his way into the Iraq war, costing hundreds of thousands of lives and the U.S. a trillion dollars (in the end, at least that). And what do you think?