PR is alive and well, thank you

I’m alive and well, thank you, and not wearing shiny suits with shoulder pads anymore. Recently, a pair of Hubspot blog posts made the rounds claiming that PR needed  a   re-invention, and PR professionals do too. Halligan’s follow up post, entitled, “What is the ideal profile for a modern PR person” (Brian Halligan) raised some hackles in the circles of veteran public relations consultants… and so, I respond.

First, it should be noted that while Halligan is a gifted writer and clearly passionate about covering trendy topics in Hubspot’s popular blog in order to garner clicks and e-book downloads, there are some “poker tells” in his writing that indicate that his insider knowledge of public relations as a marketer is lacking. For example, use of the term “marketing” and “PR” are frequently interchanged; his use of the dated term “PR agent” is worrisome; and even the headline’s claim that the post pinpoints “the ideal profile for a modern PR person” seems odd: as opposed to an antiquated PR person still pulling a salary or sustaining clients? PR person profiled…at what level? Why is the referenced e-book focused on marketing professionals and excepted from a book about inbound marketing – very different than PR? Are we all the same despite industry/skill specialization? Of course, this shows there is faulty reasoning to start.

Assuming the profiling of a mid-level public relations professional and without touching on leadership/agency principal qualities, I offer up four general character traits. These general traits are based on nearly 30 years of experience in the field, served up as a more grounded alternative to Halligan’s profile of a practitioner. The four key profile traits are simply stated here as:

      A CLEAR COMMUNICATOR. Despite all the shiny new technology and tools, public relations professionals new and seasoned still must be able to communicate in writing, by phone and in person with professionalism, brevity and clarity. Whether oral or written, persuasive business communication takes the driver’s seat in every list of “top skills required” lists by top employers. This was not mentioned in Halligan’s post at all. We now call it “storytelling” and “content creation” – but at the heart of it all, we are simply master communicators.

      BOTH MEDIA- and BUSINESS-SAVVY. A modern public relations professional must still be a savvy consumer of traditional and digital news in all its forms, and understand the business environment in which s/he works. A voracious appetite for media, current events, trendspotting, and data analysis (yes, and math!) is required. Without consuming the media you are pitching, you are sunk. With this appetite comes the willingness to build relationships with media/influencers… in person, on social or just via email check-ins. Public relations is, after all, still all about relationships.

      DETAIL-ORIENTED AND DILIGENT. There’s not a public relations professional around who can’t tell a tale of a press release or internal memo gone awry due to poor writing, a devilish typo, or an unintended slip of the tongue (or tweet). Detail-oriented, diligent communicators who can multi-task without getting flustered are in demand.

      PASSIONATE, ETHICAL and ENTHUSIASTIC. Public relations pros are the world’s biggest cheerleaders for a cause, company or client. Positive, proactive, prepared and team-oriented, public relations professionals best represent others when they mirror the values and character traits of those they speak for. If they don’t know the answer to a question, they always know how to find out, and they do what it takes to be the best, most ethical and professional team members they can be. You can always teach someone Excel pivot tables, but you can rarely “pivot” a challenging  or unethical team member into a model PR professional.

Are the shiny objects and knowledge of PR tools important – RSS feeds, Google rankings, pivot tables, and coding? For some clients and agencies, yes. For others, no. Without the foundation of good writing and communications skills, media know-how, relationship building, attention to detail and enthusiasm, your “modern” profile is simply a shiny “PR agent” suit with no character – and no substance, heart or soul. We are better than this.  

Julie Dennehy, APR

Dennehy Public Relations

Medway, Mass., @dennehypr

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