Addressing credibility issues key to grasping PR's potential

A little more than four years ago, I was invited to contribute my thoughts to PRWeek on a weekly basis.

A little more than four years ago, I was invited to contribute my thoughts to PRWeek on a weekly basis.

Since then, I've penned 200 of these columns. Sometimes it was difficult to come up with something new to say every week. More often - as those who read my newsletter will understand - it was difficult to restrict myself to 450 words.

This column will be my last. It's an opportunity, therefore, for me to take a step back and look at the big picture.

The first thing I notice is that PR remains, in my opinion, the most underutilized discipline in corporate America, used even today to a fraction of its capability to contribute, to add value. It is still, in many organizations, an afterthought, called in after decisions are made - to communicate them - when it is best used as part of the decision-making process, to ensure that the relationship or reputational implications of the decision are considered alongside the financial, operational, and legal implications.

But if progress on elevating PR's stature - and I remain convinced that it needs to operate, like finance, operations, and legal, at the C-suite - has been incremental, there is cause for optimism.

On the corporate front, the world is increasingly transparent, and companies must conduct their business on the assumption that every decision they make - and every argument related to it -will one day make it into The New York Times, at which time they will have to defend their thinking to their stakeholders.

On the product front, the hunger for authenticity means that credible, earned media (traditional and non-traditional) will play an ever-increasing role in building brands. Word of mouth, in particular, presents a wonderful opportunity for PR people who understand the process - tell your story to people with influence and credibility, let them tell it to others - but have not yet learned to apply that process to ordinary conversations, as well as media pitches.

The opportunity for PR going forward is enormous. But to grasp it, the industry will need leadership of a kind that has not always been forthcoming.

We need to address issues that threaten to undermine the very credibility that is our distinguishing advantage: payments for editorial coverage, undisclosed fees to pundits, anything that might damage the integrity of the channels of communication. And we need to draw a sharp distinction between spin - a transactional technique - and PR, the purpose of which should be to build strong long-term relationships.

I won't be writing about these issues here any more, but PRWeek readers not tired of my ranting can find my thoughts at holmesreport.blogspot.com.

Paul Holmes has spent the past 18 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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