Quick quiz - here are two self-descriptions of companies; tell me what each of these businesses is in. The first offers 'strategic communications counseling.' The second is in the area of 'integrated communications planning and implementation and change management, specifically as it relates to internal communications and leadership development.'
Easy, especially for readers of PRWeek. These guys are PR firms. So why don't they just say so? 'Strategic counseling' is the giveaway. It's the new synonym for 'PR advice,' and my guess is that criminal lawyers will soon be offering 'incarceration avoidance counseling and guidance.' There was a time when we scoffed at bartenders who called themselves 'mixologists' and garbagemen who had become 'sanitary engineers.' From there, it was a short step for real estate salesmen to become 'realtors' and insurance agents to enlist as 'estate planners.'
But PR? It's less than a few generations old. We let Edward Bernays get away with claiming to have invented the profession some time in the l920's, thus bypassing a legion of 19th Century political advisors, campaign managers, marketing geniuses like Henry Ford ('Give them any color they want, so long as it's black') and even, four early image-enhancing pioneers named Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
And now, we're busy tarting up the definitions as though we're somehow ashamed of simple declarative sentences to describe our craft, i.e., 'making people and causes look good,' 'selling product by stressing its value,' or even - and this one is a bit longer - 'advising people how to act so they'll succeed at whatever commercial or political endeavor it is on which they are embarked.' Or, in modern parlance, finding pitfalls for clients and telling them 'don't go there.'
Instead of urging large (or not so large) clients/companies to avoid absurd neologisms like 'downsizing' or 'redundancies,' we PR folks seem to go along with the act and talk about 'change management.' If I were chairman of a large company with a scandal on its hands, some lousy year-end numbers, or some executives in a plain-as-day sexual harassment or racial discrimination case, I'd be a whole lot more likely to respond to a PR professional's calling to say 'we can help you get over this period, and ease the uproar over those firings you've got coming up,' than I would to some firm's claim to expertise in something called 'change management.'
After all, we're supposed to be among the guardians of plain speaking and clean language, not of linguistic puffery.