EDITORIAL: PR people can't merely talk about business, they must start talking like business people

During the PRSA's annual conference in San Francisco, industry leaders exhorted assembled professionals to learn more about business, to become educated on the language of the C suite in order to increase their relevance to the corporation.

During the PRSA's annual conference in San Francisco, industry leaders exhorted assembled professionals to learn more about business, to become educated on the language of the C suite in order to increase their relevance to the corporation.

Haven't we said all this before? There is no doubt that business acumen - from having the financial wherewithal to decipher a balance sheet, to understanding how a 401(k) works - is an essential tool. Clearly it's time to demonstrate the real value of business education, particularly to the younger or less experienced practitioners. It is virtually a given that those who rise to the ranks of VP or SVP on the corporate level, or VPs and practice heads on the agency side, will have gained financial and commercial know-how. Once you become part of the organization structure, you have to learn fast what business plans, budgets, and P&Ls are so you don't look like an idiot in those monthly management meetings. The incentive for more junior professionals to educate themselves on these financial matters may be less clear. These individuals may have very little interaction with the C suite, and may be worrying more about the number of media hits scored for a campaign, and less about how the campaign impacts sales figures or the bottom line. In fact, there is only one really good inducement for young PR pros to get to grips with the financial world, and it has nothing to do with relevance to the CEO. They must understand that career advancement will be as much connected to the depth of their business knowledge, as it is to the traditional PR skills of writing, generating creative ideas, and developing relationships. Organizations like the PRSA should no longer treat business comprehension as an exception, but as the expectation. Forums for PR professionals must also embrace the language and lessons of finance and raise the standard of discourse. Just like those monthly management meetings, no one wants to be the only one in the room who doesn't understand what's going on. In other words, the PR industry needs to stop talking about business, and start talking business itself. NYSE proposal could harm media stock Close attention should be paid to the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) proposal that the Securities & Exchange Commission require newspapers to reveal the stock ownership of financial analysts quoted in stories. Government intervention in editorial processes, however well intentioned, has the potential to compromise the press' function as an objective and independent source of information. Only a few weeks ago, Prudential said that it will no longer make its analysts available for interviews, and will only provide their written reports to the media. Companies stand to lose invaluable third-party perspective on their businesses if more Wall Street firms take this road. The pressure on media companies from the government will virtually ensure that happens. Analysts should be vetted by the media - and by PR practitioners - and their credibility should be assessed. But it is not the government's job to ensure this happens, or to mandate what editors decide to include in their publications.

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