EDITORIAL: Strategic counsel not realistic for all

What do PR people do? It's a good question. There are all sorts of misconceptions, ranging from spinmeister to chairman's bag lady.

What do PR people do? It's a good question. There are all sorts of misconceptions, ranging from spinmeister to chairman's bag lady.

What do PR people do? It's a good question. There are all sorts of misconceptions, ranging from spinmeister to chairman's bag lady.

A new survey commissioned by the PRSA (see p9) seeks to answer the question, and perhaps even to provide a blueprint for future recruitment.

The survey shows how far the industry has come. Gone are the days when doing PR simply meant writing press releases.

The key word in today's PR business is 'strategy.' The survey shows that strategy is the top PR activity, followed closely by project management and PR program planning.

Asked which three activities a PR practitioner has to master in order to be considered a 'professional,' more than half said strategic planning was the most critical. Account/client management and media relations followed in second and third place.

The respondents also chose strategic planning as the work task that will increase most in importance over the next three years.

Strategy is clearly important across the board. The study showed that 78% of agency workers spent 'a great deal of time' on strategic planning; 60% of corporate PR people and 46% of those working for nonprofits said the same.

All this is great. It appears that the gospel that preaches strategy over tactics is at last being practiced.

But is the predominance of 'strategic counsel' a realistic reflection of PR today? Not necessarily. We hear the mantra of strategic counsel daily, while regularly observing campaigns with little evidence of strategic goals.

Perhaps the problem is that no one in their right mind wants to admit that their work is not strategic. At best, to admit otherwise suggests you're all style and no substance; at worst, you're a grunt.

The PR industry should not be ashamed to come up with great tactics.

Often a great tactic can beget a great strategy. If the client wants great publicity, an obsession with strategy - telling the CEO what to do - might not be half as important or appropriate as great ideas.

The Universal Accreditation Board released the study to show the importance of the APR program and to try to update the APR exam to make it more relevant to PR practitioners.

We support efforts to make the APR more relevant and respected. But looking at the demands of strategic planning - advising on policy, and policy implications, developing plans to influence public opinion, conducting research, setting goals, managing legal and ethical issues, and of course, crisis communications planning - it's going to take massive changes in the course to train people in these skills.

How many PR practitioners are capable of true strategic counsel? Surely the industry needs all types and skills - strategists, planners, managers, writers, pollsters, negotiators and networkers?

PRWeek supports the creation of a more demanding, more relevant qualification - that way, it will have value - but if the APR qualification becomes difficult, it's possible that many practitioners will fail the exam. And that's hardly what a body called the Universal Accreditation Board would want, is it?





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