Those of you who were at the PRSA's annual conference in Atlanta
might not have recognized it as it was covered by columnist Stuart
Elliot in last week's New York Times. While Mr. Elliot did acknowledge
in his piece that the conference was helping PR pros deal with changed
realities, he still managed to devote the bulk of his piece to the
handful of media relations executives who have put out releases
considered a little crass by a handful of journalists.
Of course, it is difficult to sum up such a diverse conference in one
article - a product of the fact that it is difficult to sum up such a
complex business function as PR, period - but a quick read of the
conference handbook, entitled Power of PR In A Changing World, actually
gives a great impression of some of the key issues PR pros are handling
The subjects of speeches and seminars ranged from the SEC's Reg FD and
its impact on employee communications, through the lead role that PR is
taking in the development and execution of integrated marketing plans,
to the diversity challenge and power of PR to change minds and behavior
to advance a positive social agenda. And that is to reveal just a pixel
or three of a huge and fascinating picture.
But, if there was one clear thread that ran through the keynote speeches
and the conversation between delegates at the conference, it was the
recognition, firstly, that the PR industry is rapidly growing into a
mature profession with many of the same issues as the legal or
accounting professions, and, secondly, that there has never been such an
important or challenging time for the industry as right now.
At the Legends luncheon, five of the icons who have done so much to
develop the industry discussed their "milestones" in communications.
Ofield Dukes talked about the incredible achievements of Martin Luther
King, Jr., who knew so much about the way to influence not just the
public, but also politicians and the political landscape. While Harold
Burson entertained us with tales of the tea dumping, media corralling
exploits of Samuel Adams, a PR savant who played such a major role in
the creation of this nation. This heritage should not be forgotten, and
can still inform the work we do today.
But it was Fleishman-Hillard chief John Graham who brought us right up
to date, by pointing out that "we are in the middle of a milestone right
now." His thinking was that, "ours is the only discipline that cuts
across all departments." Thus, PR is at the crossroads of almost any
issue or challenge that it chooses, or is chosen, to address. As Graham
went on to say, this means that we all have to reach for a new level of
He is right. And part of that new professionalism is about proving to
the doubters that PR is not about words, it is about effecting and
affecting actions. And, in that respect, it was fitting that the PRSA
not only went ahead with its conference, but came damn close to an
attendance record and organized an event that generated $1.4
million of business for American companies. That, Mr. Elliot, is what I
would have said about events in Atlanta.