EDITORIAL: Atlanta shows PR is more than its word

Those of you who were at the PRSA's annual conference in Atlanta

might not have recognized it as it was covered by columnist Stuart

Elliot in last week's New York Times. While Mr. Elliot did acknowledge

in his piece that the conference was helping PR pros deal with changed

realities, he still managed to devote the bulk of his piece to the

handful of media relations executives who have put out releases

considered a little crass by a handful of journalists.



Of course, it is difficult to sum up such a diverse conference in one

article - a product of the fact that it is difficult to sum up such a

complex business function as PR, period - but a quick read of the

conference handbook, entitled Power of PR In A Changing World, actually

gives a great impression of some of the key issues PR pros are handling

right now.



The subjects of speeches and seminars ranged from the SEC's Reg FD and

its impact on employee communications, through the lead role that PR is

taking in the development and execution of integrated marketing plans,

to the diversity challenge and power of PR to change minds and behavior

to advance a positive social agenda. And that is to reveal just a pixel

or three of a huge and fascinating picture.



But, if there was one clear thread that ran through the keynote speeches

and the conversation between delegates at the conference, it was the

recognition, firstly, that the PR industry is rapidly growing into a

mature profession with many of the same issues as the legal or

accounting professions, and, secondly, that there has never been such an

important or challenging time for the industry as right now.



At the Legends luncheon, five of the icons who have done so much to

develop the industry discussed their "milestones" in communications.

Ofield Dukes talked about the incredible achievements of Martin Luther

King, Jr., who knew so much about the way to influence not just the

public, but also politicians and the political landscape. While Harold

Burson entertained us with tales of the tea dumping, media corralling

exploits of Samuel Adams, a PR savant who played such a major role in

the creation of this nation. This heritage should not be forgotten, and

can still inform the work we do today.



But it was Fleishman-Hillard chief John Graham who brought us right up

to date, by pointing out that "we are in the middle of a milestone right

now." His thinking was that, "ours is the only discipline that cuts

across all departments." Thus, PR is at the crossroads of almost any

issue or challenge that it chooses, or is chosen, to address. As Graham

went on to say, this means that we all have to reach for a new level of

professionalism.



He is right. And part of that new professionalism is about proving to

the doubters that PR is not about words, it is about effecting and

affecting actions. And, in that respect, it was fitting that the PRSA

not only went ahead with its conference, but came damn close to an

attendance record and organized an event that generated $1.4

million of business for American companies. That, Mr. Elliot, is what I

would have said about events in Atlanta.



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