What is PR? An idea

24 Jan

Back to Betjeman for a moment (this is from his poem Executive):

You ask me what it is I do. Well, actually, you know,
I’m partly a liaison man, and partly P.R.O.

This perfectly fits the shifty, elusive quality of the mid twentieth century public relations executive (down to the gender specific language). Now fast forward to today: what more do we know?

For those in their middle years and beyond, public relations is still seen as not quite, well, respectable. But for many young people it’s an exciting route into the worlds of media and celebrity. They see no downside.

So I’ve been seeking the simplest of defining phrases to give a snapshot of what’s involved in public relations. My phrase: ideas management. It’s not the complete picture, of course, but introduces newcomers to the raw material of public relations and hints at the qualities needed to succeed (a love of ideas – a willingness to generate, engage with, shape and communicate ideas – though not necessarily in an academic way).

I’m visiting students on work placements around the country at present and I’ve not seen anything to cause me to change my mind. If supervisors are critical, it’s that our students are willing to complete the task at hand, but don’t necessarily ‘go the extra mile’ (in other words, they don’t see the bigger picture).

9 Responses to “What is PR? An idea”

  1. A PR Guy's Musings - Stuart Bruce 24/01/2007 at 12:50 pm #

    Am I an ideas manager?

    PR lecturer Richard Bailey, who writesthe wonderfully thoughtful PR Studies blog, has been thinking about a simple phrase that describes what is involved in public relations. Ideas management. I think he could be on to something. Technorati tags: PR, p…

  2. David Tebbutt 24/01/2007 at 2:15 pm #

    Maybe BrainStorm is your perfect companion. Managing ideas is its raison d’etre.

  3. Sam Wilcox 25/01/2007 at 9:55 am #

    I agree that PR is a large proportion of Ideas Management but (being a newbie to this game) I still think of PR as primarily cultivating and managing a reputaton of a client and that ‘Ideas Management’ is a means of achieving this goal.

  4. Ian Green 25/01/2007 at 10:17 pm #

    Hi Richard,
    Good post. My problem is that those working in the PR industry try to elevate it into the same terms as a profession as, say the law or accountancy.
    I don’t believe we are a profession. I had a similar conversation with the European VC at one of the big London agencies when I suggested that PR was like journalism. What I said was: “Journalism is not a profession – it’s a trade. PR’s the same.”
    His reply was: “No. It’s not a trade. It’s a knack!”
    And remember this is from the top guy from one of the largest independent PR agencies in the world (and no, I won’t name him)and to a degree I agree with him.
    At my company we take a lot of work experience students doing PR degrees and you can spot within five minutes whether they get it or not. One such student has just finished with us – and she got it! Big style! To the point of prompting me to give a impromptu speech in her praise and the promise of future work when she graduates.
    However, if an internee asked me about “ideas management” I would be uncomfortable because what our clients yearn for (quite rightly) is column inches that add to their reputation. Moreover, “ideas management” can be interpreted as a bit Big Brother.
    For our clients I would hope that we say it how it is and ask people to engage in the conversation and with the journos we simply ask them to look at the facts.

  5. Richard Bailey 26/01/2007 at 10:47 am #

    Thanks for these comments.
    Ian’s remarks pleased me and troubled me in equal measure. I’m troubled because skilful media relations is indeed a useful knack (or trade). It can certainly be the basis for a flourishing business. But it does risk missing the point… No one needs good media relations, though they might desperately seek it. What companies need are customers, a good reputation, a ‘licence to operate’. Media relations may well contribute to this, but it’s (quite literally) only a means to an end.

  6. Colin McKay 30/01/2007 at 1:27 am #

    This may be conditioned by my experience as a government PRO, but I would say P.R. is about issues management – and success in issues management is only possible if you are capable of identifying and evaluating the various stakeholder influences on an issue.
    At it’s essence, that’s the application of ideas and trends to reputation management.
    Then again, a large part of my job is avoiding column inches.

  7. Justice M. Ofori-Elikem 03/02/2007 at 4:15 pm #

    Please i want to join the Monday evevings CIPR seminar/programme.
    i’ve stopped shouting !

  8. Kevin 12/02/2007 at 11:50 pm #

    As a suggestion for terms, I think communication strategist is a much encompassing description of the PR role.

  9. Karen Russell 14/03/2007 at 2:52 pm #

    I’m incredibly late to this discussion, but I recently ran across a book chapter that gets to your point. In L’Etang and Pieczka’s latest book, _Public Relations_, the first chapter redefines PR as discourse, which the authors say structures how we know, understand, and speak about the world. “This perspective shifts the role of public relations from information management and control to the production, contestation, and transformation of ideas and meanings that circulate in society” (p. 18). On the downside, they argue that this means there are no substantive differences between PR and propaganda (hence Ian’s reference to Big Brother).

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