We let PR become a dirty word, now we are paying the price

Last month, M&C Saatchi PR announced it was rebranding to M&C Saatchi Public Relations.

Amateurs stepping in to do our jobs, badly, argues Grace Garland
Amateurs stepping in to do our jobs, badly, argues Grace Garland

The agency's announcement generated a mixture of sneering remarks and mockery, but for me it highlighted a major problem facing our industry at the moment - everyone hates PR.

There's almost something funny about an industry prized for its ability to build and protect reputations having an irreversible image problem.

It’s even ‘funnier’ that we did this to ourselves - we undersold our skills, we allowed ourselves to become a joke and we even decided in many cases to drop PR from our titles - effectively picking up a torch and leading the mob in the march against us.

It’s ludicrous. Our skill set is more in demand than ever - with unruly CEOs a tweet away from panicking markets; content and storytelling more important than ever; and authenticity being championed for brands - this is our time. But, unfortunately, we’ve botched it.

The truth is that PR, when used correctly, can be central to a business’s success.

We lend our hands to everything: we are the voice of the CEO, the brains behind brand identities, and the ones literally making the headlines.

But for some reason, we’ve allowed all of that to be reduced to spin, puffery and networking.

Instead of coming to us, brands are knocking on the doors of ‘content marketers’, ‘brand evangelists’ and all manner of other professions that believe they can do what we do, better.

This also means that we now have amateurs stepping in to do our jobs. Badly.

I recently saw a journalist’s tweet saying that one such 'outreach manager' had asked to pay for a link and write-up in a feature from the Guardian.

As if we don’t have enough trouble wooing journalists, now we have idiots running around breaking all the rules and wearing our uniform.

Perhaps we have been too closed off as a profession. Perhaps if we had opened ourselves up to other marketing professions that wanted to do what we do, we could have helped them with best practice and taught them the art of journalist relations, good storytelling and brand-building.

Taking that opportunity could have elevated the esteem of PR and reinforced our strengths.

Perhaps it’s not too late, but M&C Saatchi can’t do it on their own.

As PRs, media relations, outreachers, organic performance liaisons, or whatever we are calling ourselves, we need a united front that owns the value of our work; that conveys the complexity in it.

We need to reclaim our skillset and put a premium against it.

And if it’s not PR, we need to decide once and for all what we are called and stick with it.

Grace Garland, is director of PR and outreach, MVF

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