EDITORIAL: Nielsen reminds us that the PR industry needs self-confidence to carry out its true mission

In his speech to the Arthur W. Page Society last week, Bill Nielsen put a human face on the man who gave the organization its name.

In his speech to the Arthur W. Page Society last week, Bill Nielsen put a human face on the man who gave the organization its name.

"More than the principles that have been codified and credited to him, I think the importance of Arthur Page to all of us was the confidence he exhibited that allowed him to act on the strength of his convictions," he said. "His self-confidence was, of course, constantly reinforced because of the good judgment he possessed." Nielsen, corporate VP of Johnson & Johnson and this year's inductee into the Society's hall of fame, managed to humanize much of the profession in his speech, which was suffused with the theme of self-confidence. Not least from the man who, in offering it to this audience of seasoned communicators, boldly challenged some of the profession's precepts and practices. His take on the subject of measurement was positively incendiary in the current climate, in which ROI has become the management mantra. "I reject the assertions of others that if isn't measurable, it isn't worth doing," Nielsen said. "I would submit that if the complicated issues we deal with, and are expected to handle, could be simply placed in a process to be predictably resolved to the satisfaction of management, then I don't think we have a profession." Nielsen did not call for an end to all metrics, which he agreed improve processes. Rather, he said PR often falls into "gray spaces" that can't be quantified, but are vital. Attempting to put a dollar sign on that can mean "the function becomes marginalized and the inevitable voids that develop between black and white are not filled or bridged," he added. Nielsen, a former agency executive, also tackled the PR firm-client relationship, encouraging his peers (and no doubt quickening the hearts of agency leaders) to cultivate true partnerships with their firms. Agencies are exposed to a wide range of issues, he said, and can help companies see themselves as others see them. "Agency people can also say things about client organizations that clients can't say about themselves," Nielsen said. "We ought to have the confidence to let them get closer without feeling threatened." He said he plans to match this ideal to action within his own company. Nielsen concluded by telling the Society to embody the self-confidence of its namesake. "We may not have the force of law or established policy to back up our counsel and advice," he said. "What we own, though, is the truth and the sense of responsibility that comes with it." CEO Survey wants your voices to be heard The PRWeek/Burson-Marsteller CEO Survey provides annual data on how the highest echelon within corporate America perceives and values PR, and the impact of CEO and corporate reputation on business objectives. Corporate communicators and agencies working directly with the C-suite should encourage CEOs to participate in this research. The benefits to everyone in the profession are enormous, particularly in understanding what CEOs want most from PR counsel. The CEO Survey can be taken online at www.cybersurveys.com/prweek. To request a hard copy, call Christie Casalino at 646-638-6030.

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