Platform: I’m in public relations and I’m proud of it - The desire to establish PR as a profession is a red herring borne out of the industry’s insecurity, says Trevor Morris

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.’

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.

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