The case for pride in public relations

Let's reclaim public relations with conviction and pride, says Golin co-CEO Matt Neale.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I know the answer because my mom carefully catalogued my every utterance, as well as my sister's, with the accuracy of a Google algorithm.

I didn’t say PR. Who did back then? I wanted to be an airline pilot, but that didn’t work out. All too often in the simulator, I’d crash the little plane.

Like many of my generation, a career in public relations was somewhat serendipitous, perhaps inspired by visionaries such as Al Golin, Harold Burson, and Daniel Edelman.

Public relations mattered. Prime ministers and presidents were elected by sharp PR strategies. The reputations of corporations were carefully crafted to create change for the good (mostly) of society.

– Table Thump – We earned our media.

But then what happened? A decade ago we seemingly abandoned the very thing that made our industry so coveted. Agencies, including Golin, repositioned themselves to become integrated communications marketing shops, deserting public relations in search of bigger marketing budgets. It was a mistake.

Have you written or received an integrated marketing communications brief lately? Me neither.

CMOs do not need another marketing agency, they have hundreds to choose from already. But CMOs, like their CCO brothers and sisters, do understand why PR is so valuable. They know that unless you have the media budget of Geico, attention cannot be bought. It must be earned first.

If an idea is relevant enough to work for The New York Times, GQ, or Weibo, it will almost always work in paid media. The opposite is not true.

And powered by data, we have the mandate to take public relations to new heights. Analytics that were unaffordable only months ago, are now ubiquitous. Progressive public relations pros are using that data to predict outcomes and inform strategies at every stage of the customer journey, earning relevancy for our brands. We’re not just driving awareness, we’re driving sales.

That’s why the competitive swim lanes are so crowded. After 118 years, advertising has woken up to the power of earned media and ad agencies are buying and starting PR firms. Make no mistake, they are coming for us.

We need to take back our industry and push it forward together. We must invest in technology, creative, and planning and aggressively diversify our teams.

Let’s reclaim public relations with conviction and pride. After all, we’ve earned this moment. Today, I proudly say "I work in public relations." Do you?

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