You’ve heard the one about the account director who is asked what
they do for a living? ’I work in public relations, but don’t tell my
mother. She thinks I play piano in a brothel.’
I first heard that joke when I moved into consultancy in 1982. As the
1980s turned into the early 1990s., I thought I saw the PR industry, and
its practitioners grow in confidence and maturity.
Then came Ab Fab and Max Clifford. The PR confidence pendulum crashed
back towards adolescent insecurity and embarrassment with the result
that all too often PR looks like a teenager desperately trying to be
taken seriously in a gathering of grown-ups.
The truth of the matter is that public relations is an exciting,
intellectually, challenging and creative business. You can have a real
impact on companies and society. You can get to meet, and even be one
of, the mover and shakers.
Moreover, PR is largely staffed by intelligent, creative, energetic and
often very amusing and entertaining people. So why the
Why the desire to present ourselves, and often behave like, the dullest
accountants and lawyers? Surely a bit of overreaction to ’Eddie’ and
Advertising agencies are much more self-assured and self-confident. For
example, they are far more generous to their competitors - take a look
at how often in Campaign one agency, or ad manager, acclaims another’s
And more importantly, they don’t have this obsession with being called a
profession. Our advertising counterparts are happy, and even proud, to
be described as part of a creative business.
And perhaps there is the nub of it. Public relations is not a
Professions are about known and agreed bodies of knowledge based on
No one can practice a profession without extensive special training.
Public relations is a business that needs to have some of the discipline
of the professions, but that is quite different from being a
No, PR is a creative business run on a professional basis. Creative is a
key word. Creative, in my dictionary, means ’originality of
In other words, original and fresh analysis coupled with new and
relevant ideas for execution. And that is as true for a heavyweight
public affairs campaign as it is for the launch of a super trendy new
Sure, process and discipline is important - we’ve got ISO 9000 and
Investors in People - but itshould be a given and it’s certainly not
what should be defining the value of what we do. So what can we do to
look like a more self-confident, relaxed and grown-up industry?
Well, firstly it would help if we acknowledged each others’ strengths
and applauded each others’ successes.
Secondly, let’s be relaxed about things like Ab Fab. It was funny. And
no one thought it was anything other than a comedy caricature of one end
of the PR spectrum. A spectrum that includes, at the other end,
characters like Sir Tim Bell, Lord Chadlington and Peter Mandleson.
Thirdly, let’s support our industry bodies. It really is crass to say:
’I would join it if it was better’. It can’t get better if you don’t
join it. So support the PRCA, the IPR and PR Week. Supporting them
doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything they do, but it does mean
helping to create and industry you feel good about.
But, most important of all, let’s stop being embarrassed about the fact
that we didn’t become the novelist, artist, politician, Fleet Street
editor, film director or sports superstar that we dreamed of. Better to
have dreamed and gone into PR than to have always wanted to be an
Trevor Morris is managing director of QBO.