PR as a lead strategic discipline: holding ourselves to a higher standard

5 years, 4 months ago


Although the opportunity for PR to become the "lighthouse discipline" has never been greater, practitioners must avoid falling prey to negative tendencies. By Joe Cohen.

One of my most vivid memories from the early years of my career was my first experience participating in a senior-level strategic marketing meeting – my first opportunity to have a "seat at the table."  As I watched my counterparts from the traditional advertising, marketing, media and insights agencies deliver their strategic recommendations, I marveled at the sophistication of their work.  
I couldn’t articulate it at the time, but I was beginning to realize that having a seat at the table wasn’t good enough.  We needed to act like a lead strategic discipline if we wanted to garner the same respect as advertising and marketing.  
Fast forward to 2014 and PR pros have come a long way but there is still much to be done and the opportunity to be the "lighthouse discipline" has never been greater.
Social media has revolutionized the media and business landscape, blurring the lines between what had been considered advertising, marketing and PR, and softening the separation between editorial and brand-generated content. 
A more powerful voice
The public has a more powerful voice, news travels faster than ever before, and greater transparency is expected from brands and organizations, both internally and externally. Organizational reputation has never been harder to build and protect, and we continue to see that the reputation of once-venerable brands can be tarnished in an instant.
While there are still misunderstandings in the business community surrounding PR, most organizational leaders understand its critical importance.  A recent survey of 204 American business leaders (VP and above), that was conducted by PRSA and Kelton Research, found that 93 percent of business leaders believe that PR is just as important to their companies as other forms of communications including advertising and marketing. 
This is both a challenge and an opportunity.  PR pros are being asked to wear more hats as they absorb the duties that may have once been owned by other disciplines, and the expectation for the value that we can deliver is much higher.  Expertise in C-level corporate strategy, integrated marketing, and data and analytics are becoming necessary competencies for PR pros across all levels.  
Below I have outlined "Seven Deadly Sins of PR" – negative tendencies, habits and mindsets that can stand in the way of success during this significant moment of opportunity for our profession. 
Seven Deadly Sins of PR
1. Suffering from an inferiority complex 
PR pros sometimes have a tendency to view themselves as a second tier discipline in the strategic mix.  In order to lead, we need to get past this insecurity and the best way to do so is to come to the table better educated about larger business and organizational strategy. 
2. Thinking like a journalist, but not as a marketer 
In the past, we said that you need to "think like a journalist" to be a good PR pro and while this is true, you must now also be able to think like a senior business executive, a chief marketing officer and a publisher.  Our ability to deliver sound strategic counsel is reliant upon our ability to understand each perspective.
3. Hatred of math 
How often have you heard – or said – that you entered PR because you hated math?  In an environment where we are being constantly challenged to measure our work and leverage data to inform our strategy, this is an incredibly reckless mindset and a surefire way to lose credibility with C-suite executives.  Smart PR pros are embracing the analytics and studying business data and metrics in real time, while pinpointing insights to help guide their strategy. 
4. Failing to measure 
New technology and tools are enabling PR pros to more effectively measure and demonstrate the impact of our work.  I recommend AMEC’s Barcelona Declaration of Measurement Principles as a good resource for goal setting and measurement.
5. Fearing to admit failure 
Not every campaign or program element can be a success but, all too often, PR people have a general tendency to try to paint action as a win. We must have the confidence to admit failure, but we can never accept it. We can’t be afraid to acknowledge when programs are falling short and be ready to recalibrate when necessary. 
6. Chasing the shiny objects 
It can be very tempting to invest in the hot socil media platform du jour.  But for every Vine and Instagram, there are countless social media innovations that are flashes in the pan or fail to take flight at all. At times, we need to take big bets, but we must make them smart wagers backed by research and analytics. 
7. Getting a (cheap) thrill from deadline pressure 
Many PR pros pride themselves on their ability to pull last-minute miracles out of their hats. When working within a larger marketing framework this is untenable – we must plan ahead (as best we can) and align our efforts with the other disciplines so that PR doesn’t live in a silo.
As a profession, we have worked tirelessly to earn a seat at the table but our work is not yet done. As a profession we’ve arrived at a moment of opportunity, a potentially historic juncture for PR.
The actions we take today can impact the future of our profession for many years to come.
Author’s Details
Joe Cohen, APR, 2014 National Chair, Public Relations Society of America, SVP of Communications at KIND Healthy Snacks.
As a member of KIND’s leadership team, Cohen is responsible for overseeing the company’s communications strategy and managing its in-house team.  Cohen works directly with Founder and CEO, Daniel Lubetzky, and President John Leahy to help support the company’s marketing communications strategies and programs, as well as guide its corporate communications, team member communications and integrated social mission efforts.
Prior to joining KIND, Cohen served as a senior vice president of consumer marketing at MWW, one of the top five global independent public relations firms.  During his 15 year tenure with the agency, he lead many of the company’s food/restaurant, health wellness and consumer lifestyle clients.  This included such accounts as Sara Lee/Hillshire Brands, Frito-Lay/Tostitos, Zumba Fitness, Gold´s Gym International, 1-800-FLOWERS.COM and The Palm Restaurant Group.
Cohen has received numerous industry honors and awards including the PRWeek "40 Under 40" (2013), "PR Team Leader of the Year" at the PR News PR People Awards (2010) and recognition by PRWeek on its list of Ten Rising Stars (2006). 
Prior to MWW, Cohen served as an on-air jock at WRDS-FM (Power 102) in Syracuse, NY. He holds a bachelor´s degree from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.  

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Joe Cohen

Joe Cohen, APR, 2014 National Chair, Public Relations Society of America, SVP of Communications at KIND Healthy Snacks. As a member of KIND’s leadership team, Cohen is responsible for overseeing the company’s communications strategy and managing its in-house team.

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