The Value Of Public Relations: Lost Or Not?

Mark Taylor, a recent graduate from Florida A&M University and PRSSA member, wrote in to ask if the public relations profession has lost its true value. Here’s what he had to say:

As it stands, the average person seems to think of public relations as either being a spin-doctor or being just like marketing. This attitude exists not only with consumers and non-practitioners, but CEOs and organizational leaders alike. To answer such confusion, many practitioners and non-practitioners adopt the Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC) approach. In some cases, organizational leaders have marketing departments to leadership overshadow public relations, thus making it a function instead of having public relations stand on equal or higher standing in hierarchy.

Question: Has public relations lost its true value? If so, how do you believe you, as an intern or recent graduate, can reinforce its core values in and out of the boardroom so that the value of public relations is more than the sales it produces? If not, what examples do you see that show how public relations has maintained or enhanced its value among leadership and consumers?

Before I give you the stage, I would add some additional information.

First, when you compare public relations agencies to advertising agencies in the current economy, you’ll see that most public relations firms have not been hit nearly as hard by the recession as most ad agencies. To me, this says companies value the work public relations practitioners perform and see it as absolutely essential, though both disciplines are essential for successful businesses. When companies have to announce cutbacks, layoffs and even bankruptcy, do they turn to their advertising and marketing teams to advertise what happened? No — they rely on the public relations team to effectively communicate the truth and talk about the future.

On the other hand, how many chief public relations officers or chief communications officers are sitting next to the CEO in the boardroom? It’s not often you see these titles. In most companies, as Mark mentions, the IMC model dominates in the corporate setting, and the chief marketing officer heads all marketing, public relations and advertising for the company. All of these disciplines are essential, so when budgets get tight, especially in times like these, demonstrating ROI (return on investment) for public relations efforts are key.

So, what do you think? Has public relations lost its true value? How has it improved its value? Where will corporations take public relations next?

8 thoughts on “The Value Of Public Relations: Lost Or Not?

    • Author gravatar

      Wow, this is a really great question, and one that practitioners often revisit. The hardest part for corporate types to understand is that the practice of public relations–as in any complex relationship based on communications–is as much an “art” as any ART as traditionally defined. As in the fine arts, the graphic arts, or musical or theater arts, the value of the work is in the “eye of the beholder,” or in the patron or client who chooses to interact with or purchase the experience or service.

      The outcomes of our work are evident, but sometimes (not always) difficult to quantify. The reason IMC tends to dominate in the corporate setting, in my view and experience, is that the traditional pay-for-space marketing methods are easier to deliver, in terms of readily dispensing with the transaction. Public Relations work, while drawing upon many of the same tools in the toolkit, requires the investment in longer-term relationships, and an underlying reliance more on trust and faith based on mutual understanding, rather than the simple execution of a task.

      For those who understand the value of these investments, Public Relations will continue to hold a central seat in the decision-making court.

    • Author gravatar

      These are good questions, and I agree with Karen that the core value of public relations lies in the ability of practitioners to build meaningful, mutually-rewarding and long-lasting connections for his or her client. Go beyond corporate and look at government and non-profits, for example, and you see PR practitioners performing vital roles as trusted advisers and communicators.

      –Mike Greenberg, Member Relations Chair, PRSA New Professionals Section

    • Author gravatar

      When I think of public relations in the corporate setting, we should not get disheartened by its lack of consideration when it comes to consumer relations. I firmly believe that most consumers (I know I am) just want the best value for the goods or services they purchase. I always ask myself what will give me the most value for lowest cost. That being said I find public relations finds its space in a corporation by leading the communication efforts between the company and its investors, employees, the media and the community (to name a few). With these publics, our industry can shine, because we and our company are both interested in compiling with all legal and ethical obligations. We are selling the company and not its products/services. We want to be perceived as truth tellers. Furthermore, this is not a job that just anyone can do. It will take someone who has been trained how to write a lot, research, plan, execute, deal with the media, etc. to perform these tasks. This increases the value of public relations to a company because of PR’s specialized nature.

    • Author gravatar

      Hi Karen, thanks for adding your thoughts. From my perspective, the metrics in public relations are not always clear. Sure, advertising gives clear numbers on impressions and views, but how effective are those numbers? I think public relations practitioners can always improve on how they quantify their work. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

    • Author gravatar

      Great advice, Mike. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    • Author gravatar

      Hi Jarrett, I think you hit the nail on the head when you say it’s not a job that just anyone can do. Maybe that can be something we can focus on in demonstrating our value to the company. I agree with the rest of your thoughts, too.

    • Author gravatar

      I would just like to add that I visited a pr firm called Metia Group in London. The director said she will consider hiring people who don’t have degrees. They would just have to work for free to prove that they have what it takes. Now that’s a quick way to devalue a pr degree.

    • Author gravatar

      I’ll give a full review later.

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