PR360: 'Our industry has not risen to the age of purpose'

Amnesty International's director of comms Osama Bhutta says PR has not risen to the challenge of driving social purpose within organisations.

PR360 panel: Bhutta, Child, Stolliday, Austin and moderator Sarah Ogden
PR360 panel: Bhutta, Child, Stolliday, Austin and moderator Sarah Ogden

Speaking at a PR360 panel discussion on whether PR can do it all, Bhutta said PR is in a unique position to be at the heart of social purpose, but has failed to capitalise.

"We’re living in what for a number of years everyone is saying is the age of purpose and I’ve been really been surprised that PR has not risen to this," he said.

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"We’re quite a unique industry in that we are so close to the news agenda, what people think and the causes that people care about that we should be driving that purpose and higher ideals within organisations that is going to tap the value.

"I’m surprised PR hasn’t been much more to the fore and driving that brand opportunity. We are still too marginal trying to get coverage here or there rather than really being at the heart of the organisations we work for."

On the issue of what PR should be doing, Thomas Cook head of communications and marketing David Child told the panel that the best PR people are "able to put themselves in the background and think about what the business or their colleagues need".

Child said worst ‘through the line’ meetings is when different disciplines of marcoms are only concerned about their own patch rather than an integrated approach.

"Internally they battle and so you battle. I’d love to be the person that says, ‘shut this discipline off’ for this particular campaign. We’re not going to do a press release in the most basic way or put paid behind it," he added.

"If I can be a little bit less ego about the things that I’d like delivered and try to look at reaching the consumer in the best way possible, that’s what we need to do more of."

Blurred co-founder Katy Stolliday said there is a danger that the PR industry has been set in a certain way when agencies should be focused on solving business problems with creative "channel neutral" ideas.

"One of the biggest challenges the industry faces is we’re labelling our work," she added.

"People go in and they think that because there is a certain budget attached to a brief, we much deliver something against this budget or they’ve asked for six press releases.

"From my experience, don’t get bogged down in that brief. Think about what’s the actually challenge they need to solve, what does that person need to give to their boss and the business problem they are facing and come up with a solution instead of ticking every single tactic they are looking for."

Reuters VP of communications Jamie Austin said that in previous roles, PR departments were too specialised and siloed into external comms or social when a more joined up approach that integrates disciplines is more effective and generates better cut through.

More from PR360:

PR360: Iceland admits comms failure during 'big, bold and brave' social purpose drive

BBC media editor Amol Rajan: '95 per cent of comms from PRs is crap'

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