HOLMES REPORT: PRSA perpetuating misconceptions about PR by asking Trump to speak at conference

I guess it's official: The Public Relations Society of America has finally given up trying to convince people that PR is some kind of strategic, management discipline and decided to go with the flow, acknowledging that - no matter what people like me may advocate - it's all about publicity and self-promotion.

I guess it's official: The Public Relations Society of America has finally given up trying to convince people that PR is some kind of strategic, management discipline and decided to go with the flow, acknowledging that - no matter what people like me may advocate - it's all about publicity and self-promotion.

How else to explain the fact that by the time you read this, Donald Trump - Donald Trump! - will have delivered the keynote address at the PRSA's annual national conference? It's possible, I suppose, that Trump's presentation discussed the great value of corporate reputation; the importance of building strong, mutually beneficial relationships with key corporate stakeholders; PR's role in 21st century corporate governance; how globalization will impact corporate PR; how word of mouth is now more credible than advertising and what that means for PR pros - or any one of a dozen important issues that could transform our profession over the next decade. If Trump addressed these issues with a level of sophistication he hasn't previously demonstrated, I'll gladly eat my words in a future column. It's more likely, however, that he spent the allotted time talking about his favorite subject: himself. He will probably talk about his own experiences with PR, which - as far as one can tell - involve generating as much publicity for himself as possible, with little regard for whether the publicity is positive or negative. The PRSA could have chosen a CEO from a company that clearly understands the importance of reaching out to multiple stakeholders: Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines perhaps, or Howard Schultz of Starbucks. Instead, it chose a CEO whose company appears to be run for the benefit of a single stakeholder: Trump himself. It could have chosen a successful entrepreneur, someone who has built a business from the ground up. Again, Kelleher or Schultz would have been good, or perhaps Jeff Bezos of Amazon. Or if finding a CEO who has his own TV show was the attraction, the PRSA could have gone for Virgin's Richard Branson. He's a self-made millionaire - he wasn't born on third base like the Donald - and he's built a global brand that touches people's lives in hundreds of ways (airlines, cell phones, financial services), rather than a parochial real-estate company that has about as much relevance outside Manhattan as my local deli. I'm not sure what the leadership of the PRSA saw in Trump that led them to believe that he could impart great wisdom and insight on the subject of strategic PR. But to me it looks as if the society went for the sizzle rather than the steak - and, in so doing, simply perpetuated misconceptions about our business.
  • Paul Holmes has spent the past 17 years writing about the PR business for publications including PRWeek, Inside PR, and Reputation Management. He is currently president of The Holmes Group and editor of www.holmesreport.com.

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