PR is not going to change the world

Graham Goddkind: "As an industry we can be way too self-absorbed."
Graham Goddkind: "As an industry we can be way too self-absorbed."

When I was a kid I used to tell everyone I wanted to be a doctor. But I didn’t have the patience. Then I thought about being an optician. But I didn’t see a future in it. And finally I decided on bec-oming a refuse collector. But that was a rubbish idea. So I ended up in public relations. On reflection, I feel a little out of place sometimes, in much the same way as I would have felt if I had become a doctor, optician or bin man.

I’ve always felt my relationship to this business is quite different to the majority’s. For me, we’re in a business that just so happens to provide PR services. To be a commercially viable option for clients to buy into and to provide a service in return. Improvements to the bottom line of my clients, and as a consequence my agency, have always been my double-barrelled objectives and KPIs. But business comes first, not PR. Sure, I love PR, but my company is a service provider.

So I get a bit frustrated when, in my many interactions with people in the industry, they are sometimes so introspective. They talk as if PR exists in this bubble and is the most important thing ever, like it is a force that can change the world on its own. They seem to forget PR lives in the real world, where it is actually just a pragmatic commercial decision for a client.

I often get this sense of déjà vu. A lot of the discussions we have in this industry are those sort of pseudo-intellectual conversations about God and the meaning of life that I used to have when I was 19 and a student, accompanied by a few bottles of ropey red and a couple of spliffs.  As an industry we can be way too self-absorbed. Navel-gazing about PR could be given its own job number on many agencies’ time sheet software systems.

These same people tend to talk at best as if there’s no such thing as clients; at worst they slag them off. "Wouldn’t it be so much easier if we didn’t have any of those darn clients?" they will often say. "What planet are you on?" is what I will be thinking to myself. They seem to forget it is a business at all. How clients and agencies make money seem to be side issues. As if the clients were just some inconvenience that gets in the way of fawning about PR and its place within the scheme of things.

Sure, I find the academic side of PR interesting. Sometimes. There are some brilliant PR people for whom I have a lot of respect. I listen and I learn. But not the whole time. I long for the debate about how we’re going to increase shareholder value for ourselves as well as our clients. The commercial issues  we need to grapple with, at the end of the day, are what it all boils down to. Maybe I’m the one with the wrong end of the stick. So I guess if PR doesn’t work out for me, I could always work in a muffler factory. Though I might find that too exhausting.

Graham Goodkind is group CEO and founder of Frank PR

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