PR is Dead; long live PR could be an alternative title to Robert Phillips’ book. Trust Me, PR is Dead is a book I felt compelled to read because I have spent some time in the trenches of public relations. But as someone who has also done some time in the journalistic trenches, I also look at PR with some very jaded baby blues.
And apparently Phillips is also a bit jaded when it comes to PR because he has been a PR professional for most of his working life, most notably with the PR powerhouse, Edelman. He knows the world of PR—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Now, you might be thinking, “Wait a minute! Phillips worked in PR and is now telling us PR is dead? Is he biting the hand that fed him (and fed him very well)? Or has he learned a few things on his PR journey and now realizes PR is dead (or at least on life support), and seriously needs to change…or else?”
Well, after reading Trust Me, PR is Dead, I can safely say Phillips’ is definitely in the latter camp; and his book is a treasure trove on how PR has made major missteps and how it can change in a time where people are developing finely tuned BS detectors when it comes to media, politics, business and entertainment.
In other words, PR peeps—You can’t crap on a cone and expect people to call it ice cream.
In Trust Me, PR is Dead each chapter is dedicated on how PR has to change as society changes, using key components of evidence such as quotes from PR professionals, business leaders, advertisements, journalists, social media and various PR tools of the trade like press releases, professional profiles and interviews. Some of the names of various parties Phillips uses in this book have been redacted using heavy black bars. Phillips probably did this to protect the innocent and not-so-innocent. And perhaps to cover his bum so he doesn’t get pulled into court for possible “libel” charges.
For the longest time PR has been about making an organization look good to outside parties. In theory, this sounds good so—put your best foot forward, stamp out a great impression, and make the most of what you got. We often do this as individuals when we do our very own personal PR, right? But often organizations slip up. Instead of traditional PR owning up and taking responsibility for an organization’s missteps and misdeeds, some which are harmful and often lead to death and destruction, PR ignores them or tries to cover them up with a lot of PR glitter and gloss. This glitter and gloss does nothing to rectify the situation. And this is in a time where the public is becoming more educated on organizational BS (or at least should) and wants solutions and carefully chosen actions, not meaningless words.
Today’s PR professionals must realize the most important component in PR is trust. The public wants to trust a company or organization and the products and/or services they provide. Not only does the public require trust, the public also requires authenticity, engagement and honesty. Or what Phillips calls public leadership.
Now how have we come to this point? Simple, in the past few years we have experienced an economic meltdown, the worst since the Great Depression, one that still affects us today. We have dealt with Wall Street greed, corporate malfeasance in the forms of Lehman Brothers, Worldcom and Enron, political misbehavior and other forms of detestable conduct. People are fed up! And many of them are learning about this not just through traditional media, but also through social and alternative media and good old-fashioned word-of-mouth.
To rectify this PR professionals must now employ several key strategies to gain the public’s trust. Among them include the following.
1) Embrace data and specialists
2) Focus on different skillsets and talents to better serve clients and the public
3) Look at the general public as citizens, not merely as consumers
4) Strive for excellence and eschew bureaucracy
5) Advertising is one thing; it is not the whole thing
Trust Me, PR is dead is well-written in an audience-friendly way that even non-PR types will find valuable. I hope it finds a wide audience and is embraced in a time when politics, media, business, entertainment, sports, charities and other organizations need to keep it real. Believe me, we as a society not only want this; we demand it!
I have to give a shout out to Jeff Abraham, a wonderful PR professional from Jonas PR. Jeff has been instrumental in sending me galleys and advanced copies of books for me to review including In the Company of Legends by award-winning documentary filmmakers Joan Kramer and David Heeley and Kelly Carlin’s memoir A Carlin Home Companion-Life With George. Jeff’s work has always been professional and without hype. He respects my work and never pressures me to write positive reviews. He truly values my input. Jeff is a total mensch and is what PR should be. Thanks Jeff!