PRSA Phoenix “State of the Industry” Panel Recap

On February 8, the PRSA Phoenix Chapter commenced its 2012 professional development docket with a very insightful and diverse panel of public relations practitioners from all of the major sectors of the Valley – corporate, government, agency, nonprofit and independent. More than 80 members and prospective members attended to hear the panel’s thoughts on the “State of the Industry,” a traditional topic for the Chapter at the top of the calendar. Prior to the wide-ranging discussion, the Chapter presented its annual Percy and Phoenix Awards (news release).

PRSA Phoenix Board Member Susan de Queljoe did an excellent job moderating the panel, providing great transitional questions and keeping all panelists involved throughout the dialogue. In the interest of time and space, I will give collective attribution to the panelists below with a summary of key takeaways (in no particular order), with some of my thoughts mixed into the batter.

  • Corporate: Renee Hunt, Sr. Manager of PR & Internal Communications of Blue Cross Blue Shield
  • Agency: Melanie McBride, VP and Director of Public Relations and Social Media of E.B. Lane
  • Government: Kelly Taft, Communications Manager of Maricopa Associations of Governments
  • Non-Profit: Paul Allvin, VP of Brand Advancement of Make-A-Wish Foundation of America
  • Independent: Beth Cochran, Independent Practitioner of Wired PR Group

1.What is the seemingly ever-evolving definition of public relations? [PRSA has three current options in a re-defining exercise] Regardless of phraseology and semantics, the consensus is that it is truly a management discipline that focuses on strategic planning, building and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships with different stakeholders (customers, media outlets, partner organizations), leveraging credibility and subject matter expertise and articulating the brand and organizational stories through a variety of channels to achieve objectives. In other words, PR is not a bunch of “late-game tactics” thrown in at the end to fix a situation.

2. The dreaded “spin” term for PR was broached and the strategic, multi-disciplinary rationale for the field was deployed to dispel this simplistic notion of “message manipulators.” In regards to the dreaded “Scarlet Word” that has often tagged the industry, I started to ponder what a convincing response to the uninformed who dispense that label would be, and I came up with “stand straight & deliver directly”. Not as pithy as “spin,” but I feel that phrase encompasses the ethics code that PRSA embraces.

3. Being adaptable, proactive in mentoring and seeking continuing education are crucial for all practitioners. Involvement in professional associations was touted as beneficial for the careers of the panel as well as certification opportunities such as the APR (Accredited Public Relations).

4. When wrapping one’s arms – and management’s heads – around measurement, it is important to assess the “quality of the outcomes” (perception change, revenue growth, brand awareness) more so than the “quantity of outputs” (i.e. news releases, social media metrics).

5. The future of the news release is short in length, flexible in format and no longer the trailblazing mode of content dissemination, but rather is a supporting anchor to “keep them hooked” after social media distribution has “already hooked them”. It appears that journalists have demonstrated more respect and a greater appreciation and understanding of the varied roles PR practitioners take on due to their interactions via social media.

6. For young PR professionals, remember these four “Es” – ethics, education, enthusiasm and entrepreneurship because you need to be honest and thorough, embrace learning at all times, be passionate about what you do and resort to being a resource and resourceful in filling the different hats you must and will wear.

7. The lines between reporting and editorializing have blurred in traditional media in what often seems to be an overdramatization when competing for revenue and in the face of the real-time content saturation of the blogosphere.

8. It is important to educate clients and management to the fact that PR is not just publicity and media relations and there is more to just utilizing the online tools to generate public awareness, brand recognition and goodwill in the community. In terms of which department should manage the social media channels, the prevailing recommendation was that it is an integrated necessity with marketing, digital media and public relations, which should really manage the content once the technology is implemented and the visual brand is established.

9. The value of public relations should not be downplayed during economic downturns, crisis situations or budget cuts. Laying off skilled communicators is not going to heal the wound – you still need to shepherd management through forward-seeking strategies and have your organization’s messages and stories out in the public to continuously educate your stakeholders.

10. So basically, whatever role you serve across the spectrum of the public relations field, you want to understand the brand, visualize your voice and massage your messaging accordingly!

Some other questions to ponder in the quest to reinforce the place that PR should have at the management table and hold in the eyes of other professions:

-Why don’t more PR pros pursue graduate degrees? Do they feel that it won’t help them advance in their line or work?

-Why is PR/Communications looked down on or misunderstood by C-suite as “soft/easy” discipline when they have to interact with so many different stakeholders with greater frequency than other disciplines and have the added pressure of being in the public eye.

-Is the value of PR downplayed in large organizations in certain industries due to the outcomes and outputs not being tangible goods, services or revenue streams?

-How can PR representatives for high-profile spokespersons, executives and celebrities demonstrate to media personnel that they are not just “subservient go-betweens” or “message pages” between the requests and interview execution?

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