Is it time to retire the term 'public relations?'

Once you're outside our world, "It's all just PR" is rarely said in a complimentary way.

In an earlier blog post, I reminisced about how the golden age of public relations paralleled the dominant era of the mass media. That's when Daniel Edelman, Harold Burson, Al Golin, and the other pioneers of our industry established their firms that are still strong players around the world. And I know the large firms have also had to evolve to survive, just as JeffreyGroup has done over the past 20 years. 

PRWeek contacted me last year in preparation for its 15th anniversary issue and asked about my predictions for the next five years. At the time, I noted that I wouldn't be surprised to find PRWeek with a new brand identity by the 20th anniversary in 2018.

In 1993, when I founded JeffreyGroup, we proudly had “Public Relations Specialists for Latin America” as a tagline on our business cards and brochures. (The World Wide Web wasn't really going yet, so there was no website until a few years later). Although we're still Latin America specialists, we dropped the “Public Relations” in 2005. And a quick glance at the websites of the 10 largest agencies in PRWeek's listings show none of them with public relations in their name. 

Although at one time we worked almost exclusively with directors or managers of public relations, among our current clients — including some of the largest multinationals and brands like Airbus, American Airlines, Johnson & Johnson, and Nestlé — almost none of our contacts has “public relations” as part of his or her title, and I'm hard-pressed to think of the last company I encountered with a “PR department.” Yes, they're still around but it's usually tagged communications, internal or external relations, or often included with marketing function in many consumer product and tech clients. 

Once you're outside our world, “It's all just PR” is rarely said in a complimentary way. And when it comes to most TV shows and movies, public relations departments have rarely been accorded any respect. Anyone else remember Linda Evans as Krystle Carrington in ABC's Dynasty in the 1980s immediately named director of public relations at her husband's oil dynasty when she decided she wanted a career? (The Annenberg School at UCLA has a great collection of the depiction of PR people in TV and movies over the past century.)

JeffreyGroup now uses “marketing and corporate communications” as our descriptive tagline, which basically eliminates all boundaries and lets us approach every client assignment with an eye toward strategic solutions, regardless of the tools or platforms that might be most effective reaching the target audience with the intended messaging.

For the US Hispanic market, where our work is nearly all consumer marketing, it had recently become clear to us that the best solution for our clients was often to blend our communications work with paid advertising. So we went out and hired a team of advertising pros and launched Pinta, which now has the staff to integrate paid ad placements complementing our full range of communications services.

As readers of PRWeek know, there's a lot of valuable, important work being done each week by a lot of smart, creative, talented people across the US and around the world that's helping our client companies and organizations achieve their goals. But is it really PR?

Jeffrey Sharlach is CEO of JeffreyGroup.

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