Sandra MacLeod: PR industry is at a crossroads

At the risk of agreeing with two of the leading PR gurus of our day, Lord Chadlington and Lord Bell (PRWeek, 2 October and 9 October), the world is changing and PR is ideally placed to step in and step up. But the question remains, will it?

Sandra MacLeod
Sandra MacLeod

The tectonic plates have shifted in the working world, and this is rattling the traditional organisational structures that serve us badly. It is no longer appropriate to have an advertising or marketing department and budget separate and distinct from that of PR.

It is not a hammer that will bring the silos down but the connectivity of the internet. Dialogue is happening among those who have never met but are joined by common values, shared interests and passions - be it in the latest iPhone or cancer treatment. Around the world, across time zones and cultures: this is exciting, powerful, transformative.

Where marketing loves command and control, PR thrives on influence and relationships. The concepts of customer, employer and global citizen brands are merging. This, if ever there was one, is surely PR's time.

But many worry the traditional skills set and calibre will not live up to the significant demands PR is now facing - ranging from becoming 'conversation architects' with internal and external stakeholders, through to providing sound context and advice on risks to reputation and influencing strategy.

PR did not start out that way, but - by the 80s and 90s at least - was seen to be a 'fun' and 'creative' job; media reporting was pretty straightforward; being on the board was something to which to aspire. Now, reporting is not what it used to be - the media landscape is being altered daily. And board directorships are not soft options for the faint-hearted.

And here I come back to Lord Bell's view: today PR is one of the most stretching but rewarding activities. The challenges are there - the excitement of new possibilities abound. Will PR 'step up' or be overlooked? Having been a passionate advocate of the industry longer than I care to count, aside from the enlightened professionals who are clearly there, I believe the jury is still sadly out on this one.

- Sandra Macleod is group CEO of Echo Research.

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