The Business Case for PR: according to whom?

Today PRSA rolled out its “Business Case for Public Relations” initiative, aimed at spit-shining the image of the PR industry and combating a lot of the misperceptions and negativity that surround the profession. The campaign includes a variety of features like resources to help articulate the value of PR to the C-suite, formation of a measurement task force to standardize measurement practices, and a newly organized collection of case studies.

I haven’t dug into all the materials yet. I’m sure there are many good tidbits in there. And frankly, as much as PR practitioners (myself included, on occasion) complain that other people “don’t get” PR or that we’re misrepresented via shows like Sex and the City that overemphasize the publicist role, at least PRSA is trying to do something about it.

But what caught my eye was the section on the Business Case section of PRSA’s Web site called “Industry Thought Leaders.” It profiles the nine individuals who were involved in the Business Case effort. Here’s what I immediately noticed about this list:

  • All are very accomplished PR professionals, with many years of experience in the field. The youngest is maybe 40-ish.
  • Seven of the nine are men.  Not exactly representative of the PR profession as a whole.
  • There’s no cultural diversity among the nine leaders (at least judging by the photos).
  • Seven of the nine are from PR agencies, most of them the big ones (H&K, Edelman, APCO, etc.). One is from corporate communication, one is from academia.

I’m sure that all nine of these people offered great insight and input into this initiative and I’m in no way knocking their individual qualifications or contributions to this effort. They have clearly differentiated themselves in the PR field. But essentially it’s a bunch of old(er) white guys from big agencies.

dartboardI would have loved to have seen a more diverse group of PR professionals involved in this effort. It would have  resonated with me more if I had looked at the list and seen more women, one or two early- or mid-career professionals, some practitioners from small boutique agencies, some non-profit and corporate communicators, and some practitioners from different ethnic backgrounds.

I don’t know how this advisory panel was chosen; whether it was self-nomination or invitation or some other process. I’m not saying that PRSA should have gone out with a pre-determined list of certain types of PR professionals and “ticked boxes” to create this group. But it causes me to wonder what else could have been included in this advocacy campaign had some more representative voices been included in the process.

Knowing and understanding your audience is one of the fundamentals of public relations. I feel like maybe PRSA missed that mark here.

What do you think?

Image via Flickr user Paul Peracchia

23 thoughts on “The Business Case for PR: according to whom?

  1. Can’t disagree with those points on diversity, Amy. PRSA should have spotted the OWG (old white guy) syndrome in the “Thought Leaders” section. But as we say in the online world, “publish, then modify.” Let’s hope they modify that panel.

    I spent some time with “Business Case” today, and I gotta say, it’s a pretty good first step from an organization that’s shown so little initiative of late. It offers lots of links to tons of information, and it’s all in one place.

    Where you see a weakness in the diversity of “Thought Leaders,” I see a weakness in diversity of sources. All of the material I’ve scanned so far comes from PRSA sources (Tactics, Strategist, Silver Anvil cases, and on-demand webinars) or from the Institute for Public Relations. In time, perhaps my academic colleagues will contribute a bibliography that expands this body of knowledge to give it a broader and, I hope, a more international perspective. Of course, copyright issues are a challenge there.

    I’ve been a vocal critic of PRSA the past few years, and I’m still unsure I’ll renew my own membership for 2010. But they’ve produced something of value here, so I want to tip my hat. Thanks to Elizabeth’s Sosnow’s tweet/link for getting me here tonight. I do visit your blog when I see your tweets. Gotta speak up more often.

    • Bill, thanks for the quick overview of the materials. I had only given a cursory glance so far into what the Business Case offers and it does sound like it could stand to include some more variety beyond just PRSA’s own material.

      I was a member of PRSSA in college and only remained in PRSA for one year afterward. I’ve found that instead of paying several hundred dollars a year (which my company doesn’t cover) for several organizations (PRSA, IABC, AMA, etc.), I just pay to go as a guest or non-member to the local events I’m interested in. The membership fees are steep for an individual and don’t necessarily “come with” much – it still costs additional money to go to the events, conferences, workshops and webinars. And with the vast scope of information available on the Web from a truly diverse set of thought leaders who share their thoughts via blog, I don’t feel that I need to be a member of PRSA for access to this kind of information (via Tactics, e.g.). So unless I’m missing something major, so far I haven’t found professional membership to be worth the cost for me. However, it’s good to see them stepping up into the advocacy role with this Business Case effort. I do hope they’ll include some more diverse voices in future iterations.

      Thanks for stopping by the blog.

  2. The case you make against a professional membership is one I hope PRSA’s leadership is hearing — especially given that you come out of a leading PRSSA chapter. I’m hearing the same thing from many 20something professionals. If you don’t perceive the need for PRSA’s professional network or the information the organization provides online, you won’t pay for it. And when it comes out of your pocket and not the employers (same in my case), you think long and hard before you write that check. So far, PRSA has failed to compete against the 2.0 alternatives — and I’m not sure it can.

  3. Great Post, Amy!

    You bring up some very important points – especially as it relates to the ‘everyman’ and ‘everywoman’ in PR. The industry is chock full o’ women and ethnic minorities. And while I don’t (at all) ascribe to putting in a woman / ethnic minority into this kind of thing for the sake of having a ‘well-balanced’ team, it could have been done…without trying ‘to make it’ happen.

    Now, I’m not saying that this was done on purpose – NAY NAY. What I am saying is that this may have been something that they missed in the process fo trying to put something out that the industry could really use. But, to Amy and Bill’s point, that certainly doesn’t take away the fact that not everyone is necessarily represented here. Because, yes, having US ALL INVOLVED can bring in more insight, value, etc. than perhaps the PRSA may realize.

    • Thanks for sharing your perspective, Narciso. I’m with you that a group should never be “engineered” just to fit specific criteria, but I guess I hoped that it would have (naturally?) come out looking a little more representative of the overall population of PR practitioners.

  4. Hi Amy,

    Thanks for stopping by to check out the Business Case and for offering your thoughts on it here. We hope you dig more deeply into the materials in the coming weeks and months.

    PRSA, too, would have liked to involve a more diverse group of thought leaders in this initial panel. It’s a start, though; and as time goes by and we build on the resources and information available as part of this advocacy campaign, we’ll continue working to engage professionals who represent diversity not only in their gender, race, ethnic background and sexual orientation, but also in their thought, practice area, industry specialization, organizational setting and age.

    There’s a common misperception, though, as to how individuals become involved in PRSA initiatives such as this.

    Looking back, our wish list of potential “thought leaders” for this campaign contained 40 names: 23 men and 17 women; 32 agency professionals (agencies of all different sizes and practice specialties, from health care to sports and entertainment to marketing to women), six corporate professionals and 2 academics. There were whites and non-whites and young and old, though the median age probably was too high, upon further reflection. The thought leaders featured on our Web site are those who said yes when asked to be involved in this effort; it’s not as simple as hiring diverse models for a photo shoot.

    Seating our Board of Director is similar challenge, yet even more difficult. These are people who must be PRSA members (87 percent of whom are white), volunteer to serve and meet specific qualification benchmarks. At the end of the day, you may have a diverse list of candidates who are willing and able to serve; but, you may not, even though you do things such as reaching out directly to the National Black Public Relations Society (NBPRS) and Hispanic Public Relations Association (HPRA), and contacting prominent leaders of various PRSA communities, to solicit diverse candidates.

    Without getting into a larger discussion over the general state of diversity in the public relations industry (you can read our thoughts on this on our blog, I hope this helps put it into perspective.

    Arthur Yann is vice president of public relations for PRSA.

    • Thanks Arthur. I really appreciate you stopping in to clarify the selection process for these Thought Leaders. I hope the initiative continues to grow and involve more people from a lot of different PR backgrounds.

      Does PRSA ever ask people to self-nominate or volunteer for projects like this? It seems like that may be an interesting way to find some new voices, versus putting together a list and working down from it to get to people who agree to work on the initiative.

  5. Working for an association, I know how hard it is to get people to volunteer for things – especially if they are doing extra work. I wonder what the process was, and how there could have been more outreach. Did they have to be a member of PRSA? What was the age of the original panel? I saw Arthur noted the diversity of their pool of candidates, which sounds like they had a broad range. With something so important, would it have been better to wait until a more diverse collection of PR (that truly represented our industry) were shown? Maybe. Is it hard to be patient with projects when you’re really excited and want to get the information out there? Absolutely.

    With more than 21,000 people as members of PRSA, I think the pool of thought leaders should have been bigger. I really like your idea of nominating people, A. I think that is a great way to crowdsource and get members involved.

    • I’m sure that waiting for the “ideal pool” of candidates to serve on this panel would have meant that PRSA wouldn’t have been able to accomplish it at all – and it can definitely be difficult to get folks to step up and volunteer for things like this. However, it seems like since this is such an important issue that opening it up and having a self-nomination process may have resulted in more unique voices being heard.

      Regardless, from Arthur’s comments here and elsewhere it seems that PRSA isn’t etching anything in stone and is committed to having people to continue to engage in dialogue about this initiative and involve others in the process as this campaign evolves.

      • I think it’s going to be a wait and see – this initiative can be a great community-based opportunity, so I’m interested to see how it pans out. Tapping into the commuinty and engaging first would have been a neat approach. I really like the self-nomination idea if you can’t tell. :)

  6. Thank you for this post.

    It’s good to hear insight from both PRSA and you. Diversity of leadership is such a large detail that should not be overlooked (I think). At some point, the leading organization in our industry needs to reflect what the industry looks like.

    This post is something I’ve been needing to hear. It’s comforting to know that there are others also weighing the pros and cons of the membership costs versus the value of what the membership entails.

    As of now, I am weighing those costs against the costs of my local organization prices (there isn’t a PRSA chapter in my state) and figuring out what is right for me, as a graduate with no job (as of yet).

    • Thanks for stopping by the blog and sharing your thoughts, Samantha. I’ve found that there are lots of local networking opportunities, independent of what specific organizations I choose to join. I’ve met some great colleagues and mentors locally through these events and also found a lot of guidance and thought leadership online via Twitter and blogs. The great thing is that with many tools out there to help organize events and groups of people is that even if there’s not an existing group in your state or area, you can easily start one on your own!

  7. If it makes you feel better, the people who wrote the presentation and drove the content were the former chairs of the IPR Measurement Commission, inlcuding myself and Pauline Draper among others. Why they highlighted all those people is a mystery to me.

  8. Amy,

    I’ve been debating all day about how to respond to your post. I should disclose that I am incredibly active in PRSA which results in my getting a tremendous bang for my membership dollar. I can’t imagine not being a member but I’ve also put a lot into it. I used to be on the national Board and am currently an officer in the College of Fellows.

    I appreciate the concerns you raised and hope you know that PRSA always strives to involve as broad a spectrum of the profession in everything we/they/it does. The charge to create a business case came from the members and the profession and the members (and non-members) were invited to join the team to create the case. I applaud PRSA for taking on this project and providing all professionals with the tools they need to help begin to explain what our profession is all about.

    Is is perfect? Probably not. Can it be improved upon? Probably. Can you help with that process? Definitely. Were there more people involved than are highlighted in the Thought Leaders section? Definitely and maybe we should get them all listed here so you can see who they are.

    Here’s my charge to those who think this isn’t perfect: Volunteer to help; offer your constructive assistance and help the Society and the profession continue down this path. If we all work together we’ll have an even better product than we do today.

    But I do want to be sure I remember that one word, my mother taught me as a young girl, and that’s thank you. Thank you to PRSA and the volunteers who devoted hours to the process of creating this. Thank you to those who will volunteer to make it better. Together we will improve what we all love to do day in and day out.


    • Mary – Thanks for the thoughtful response. I am thankful that PRSA has taken steps toward helping professionals promote and advocate for our field to those who may not understand what we do. From Katie’s comment it sounds like perhaps more people were involved than just the nine featured in the Thought Leaders page.

      Shel Holtz made some interesting observations earlier today that it would have been great if PRSA combined with other organizations on this effort (like IABC, e.g.) instead of “going it alone.” Arthur also defended PRSA and noted that this is an ongoing effort and one of the strategies is to find other associations, groups and people to help develop it. Thanks for the call to action to remind us all to get involved in improving our profession, whether it’s through PRSA or some other means.

      • Thanks Amy, I think perhaps PRSA can create a list of those involved on the committee and it will help greatly with this. I know lots of folks were asked to, and hopefully did, get involved from all walks of the organization. I believe there was also outreach to other organizations but know that responsiveness was also critical to members. Hopefully others can join in to make it even better. I’m anxious to really use some of the tools created, even as I try to explain to family what I do!

  9. Congrats on triggering a useful discussion here, Amy. I don’t see a lot of disagreement on the “Thought Leaders” issue, and I’m confident PRSA will make adjustments. More important, this discussion shows the PRSA faithful have finally gotten into the online conversation. That wasn’t the case as little as a year ago.

  10. Great discussion! I think the fact that this post pulled in comments from PRSA and across the PR spectrum as well is a testament to the importance of the issue. I think PR professionals value diversity in thought leadership and that is reflected in this discussion.

    As said before, i think the “Business Case for Public Relations” was a huge step in the right direction and I think the next version will benefit from discussions like this one. User-generated content truly is changing the way professionals/companies do things.

    • Thank you for visiting the blog, Maggie. The perception of the PR profession is definitely an important issue and I’m glad that PRSA (and you!) weighed in here and helped further the dialog.

  11. This is a great start and nice effort, but as you and Bill point out there are too many weaknesses of this effort by PRSA. The organization on many levels continues to frustrate me and I continue to question my membership fees. I am particularly disappointed that the majority of people for this study are from agencies. Does PRSA feel that corporate communicators lack the knowledge to contribute? I doubt it, but it is a huge miscalculation. I hope that the organization takes time to add to this study by talking with at least 10 leading communicators from within corporations. Once again, a great post Amy.

    • Thanks, Allan. I get very frustrated with the over-emphasis on agency life in PRSA. My only agency experience was internships in college, and the rest of my career has been corporate communications. Yet I still consider myself to be a PR professional. I also hope that they start to incorporate some more in-house communicators into efforts like this. Not just corporate communicators, but non-profit, government, small business, etc.

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