Three PR business narratives we need to change

Year after year, we beat ourselves up about not having enough confidence, not being inclusive enough and not investing in data, planning, creativity and measurement. Can we stop this self-flagellation and start being the industry our people want us to be?

Here are three narratives about the PR business we need to change

PR needs more confidence

That’s not going to happen till we build our 'unfuckwithability' (UFWA). It’s our ability to tell a client/brand that it isn’t open to listening, where to get off, based on either our confidence that comes from having a core, a spine, a belief, a set of values, a purpose; or the strength of our coffers. Before we do that, we need to ensure we’ve got our house in order in terms of the quality of work we’re delivering. Yes, we need to speak the language of the boardroom and this audience relies on data, hard facts, a correlation between x and y, not fluffy stuff like buzz, likes and AVEs.

This conversation is no longer about what to measure or should we measure but how do we move from diagnostic analytics (what happened and why it happened) to more prescriptive analytics (based on our learning and insights, this is what we need to do to make this happen).

As a start-up, I know we can do a better job of using data to make our arguments stronger so our clients are able to defend our work in the C-suite and better still, get buy-in for what we’re trying to achieve. We need to invest in upskilling our teams so data and measurement become part of our language. We need to tie-up with independent measurement firms to provide hard, data points that support the outcomes we’re meant to achieve. We’re not there yet.

PR needs more diversity

I can’t remember the last time I attended a PR conference outside India where the people on stage weren't largely private-school educated white, men and the people in the audience weren’t largely private-school educated white women with a smattering of black, Caucasian and the occasional brown person. While the gender difference is clear on and off-stage (and being actively tackled), what is common is the private-school education.

If we want PR to be less of an elitist profession, we need our recruitment and culture to be inclusive of people from different backgrounds, educational qualifications, careers and not just be ‘people-like-us.’ We need to be more representative of the audiences our clients want us to reach unless you’re a city hall PR firm with all your audiences within a square mile.

This conversation needs to move from ‘we-need-diversity’ to how do we give people from diverse backgrounds space and time to realise their potential within PR firms without us straight-jacketing them with ‘this is the way it works’. We’re hiring them for a reason, we want them to bring their strengths and show us a better way of doing what we do.

PR needs to be more creative

 Cannes cannot be the only benchmark of creativity for our industry. A lot of what we do is keeping brands out of the news, helping them reach and engage stakeholders beyond consumers and building narratives that are authentic to brands’ DNA. That’s the majority of what 'Chief Communications Officers' hire PR firms to do. For those of us competing for a share of the Chief Marketing Officers’ budgets to directly engage consumers, we need to move the conversation away from ‘we-need-to-hire planners and creative strategists’ to ‘how do we win over clients who don’t understand the value of what our planner or creative strategist brings and get them to pay for it’ without taking PR consultancy strategy and creativity granted and free as part of the pitch process.

Creativity in PR is an ability to change the narrative in a crisis, respond to reputational threats with confidence and humour and help brands take a stand even if it means choosing to support one belief over another. It’s also about building relations with influencers in fresh and engaging ways so we’ve also got a ‘goodwill piggybank’ for rougher times. Judging our industry by the number of Cannes wins is like judging a fish by its ability to climb a tree.

We need to stop talking about these issues as PR industry issues and start looking at them as individual PR firm issues where we have the power to make things happen and be (come) the industry we want to be.

Girish is founder & managing partner, at ON PURPOSE, a creative communications consultancy focused on driving social change in India. Follow him on @Girisham1.

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