In 1984, Bernays, Sigmund Freud’s nephew, wrote the introduction to one of public relations greatest primers, Bill Cantor’s “Experts In Action – Inside Public Relations.”
“The two words ‘public relations’ are in the public domain. In the United states, on the other hand, anyone can call himself or herself a public relations practitioner and often does, with disadvantage to public and profession alike. But unfortunately, in the United States, words have the stability of soap bubbles and Belgian lace unless they are defined by law. In other professions, the criteria are defined by law, with economic sanctions for those who transgress.”
Bernays adds there are professional organizations for public relations practitioners, but there are no legal standards for the profession. Someone who last year was selling real estate is now a public relations practitioner – and that happens often.
When I was coming into the field, there was a requirement of 10 years on a major news outlet before any corporation would hire you into a public relations job. Today, major corporations are hiring practitioners into vice president or director positions right out of college. Many are using interns to do their public relations.
The day where public relations practitioners were key counsel are gone. Today, public relations has become akin to administrative assistant, not a counsel. Employers have let the industry know how they feel. The field is nearly 80 percent female, rather than a fair and equal balance of gender. One public relations professor told me 10 years ago he had a male in his class, and none since. Not one professional organization is fighting this trend.
On a Phoenix public relations blog, a local practitioner makes an impressive argument that public relations is not sales. Yet most PR practitioners fail to realize public relations is a “subset” of marketing, much like photography, painting, dance, sculpture are “subsets” of art. “…it’s the role of marketing and sales, not PR, to create those (sales) transactions,” the practitioner argues.
In ongoing arguments on the site, one practitioner stated, “If PR can’t help a company’s bottom line, especially in these troubling economic times, then PR is going to die. … if it doesn’t help lead to increased sales or profits, then you’ll be without a client.”
Another respondent, “Companies that understand the strategic value of marketing and marketing communications are the ones that will survive long after the short term focused bottom liners die off like Amalgamated Buggy Whip Industries. Marketing and Marketing Communications are branding exercises, while Sales is tactical. If you subordinate strategy to tactics you may win a few but you’ll lose the war.”
You want to see where public relations education is going, check this respondent, would you pay for this? “My college prof defined PR as ‘doing good things, then telling people about it.’” Was his professor the star of a show, "My Name is Earl," and did he have a list?
When practitioners argue what the field is, there is trouble. Do lawyers or CPAs publicly argue about what their field does? If there is argument in one city, it carries throughout the U.S. Check O’Dwyers. This publication covers the ongoing arguments.
That’s why companies would be wiser hiring Marketing Sociologists who are all about a company’s “bottom line.” Also well educated and experienced.
When I started reporting, I was actually given a card with “cub reporter” on it. Today, those journalists and public relations practitioners right out of college are given the term “veteran” (ask the Arizona Republic). Delusional.
You need a Marketing Sociologist, not a public relations “professional.”