Openly displaying pride in their industry will help PR pros earn recognition as innovators

"Innovation" features have appeared in a number of magazines over the past few months, from Business Week to Ad Age to CMO.

"Innovation" features have appeared in a number of magazines over the past few months, from Business Week to Ad Age to CMO.

Beth Comstock, who rose from the PR ranks to CMO at GE, has been prominently featured as a leader in innovation in more than one of the specials.

Even though Comstock, along with a few others in the industry, has earned a spot in the C-suite and has a meaningful role in driving corporate innovation, it is still not a word routinely associated with PR. Larry Weber, now chairman of W2 Group, was included in the roster of innovators in CMO's September issue, but he is the lone PR person. In a piece Weber penned for the issue, he says, "PR, always advertising's bridesmaid, will morph into the jewel in the marketing crown." This is because the demands of the "social web" are best met by PR people who are "uniquely equipped to stimulate, manage, and sustain frank conversations among real people in a style, time, and place most relevant to them."

Judging from recent conversations with industry leaders, many others believe that the convergence of technology and communications fragmentation has created huge opportunities for the PR industry.

Of course, we've heard that before. Over the past five years, I have heard many times the refrain, "Now is the time for PR." It was said during the dot-com boom. It was repeated when everything went south. It was said yet again in the wake of corporate scandals that made Enron a household word. Now it seems the trends are situated squarely in PR's sweet spot, but still the industry can be perceived as reactive and rooted in traditional methods.

But in order to be considered an innovator, one might take Weber's lead in the way he talks about the business. One is not to shy away from the term "PR." Sometimes in an effort to distance themselves from the negative perceptions of the industry, communications professionals will call it everything but PR to make their point. Taking that further, Weber makes a strong case for the reason PR should own the discussion. He is not unique in this, but he is getting attention for it, as are the few others who manage to take some of the spotlight away from those other marketing disciplines.

Student outreach is everyone's responsibility

Not everyone who studies PR stays in PR, and recent evidence of that was found in a survey of Lagrant Foundation scholarship recipients. I am on the board of the foundation, which was created to increase diversity in the ad and PR industries. Many of the recipients have moved on to marketing-oriented positions. But even with the support of an organization designed to ease their way into a marketing career, some students never take up those opportunities at all, opting instead to move into sales, finance, banking, or something else.

While part of the problem is obviously keeping people engaged throughout college and beyond, another issue is bringing them into it in the first place. Kim Hunter, who launched the foundation, points out that many enter college with no idea what a PR career even is. The entire community should be willing to get involved in building awareness of the profession among those who haven't had to pick a major yet.

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