I'm not a big fan of New Year's resolutions and by this time in January most of them have been broken anyway, but there are a few things I'd love to see less of in 2013.
Many of them are related to the way discussions are framed when it comes to the subject of PR and the future of marketing and communications.
First, let's ban the phrase “PR nightmare” from our lexicon.
Boeing has been in the news recently because of issues surrounding its Dreamliner 787 jets. But this is not a “PR nightmare” - it is an operational problem stemming from the fact that the planes' windows are cracking, oil is leaking, and battery fires are starting.
As CBS' Gil Schwartz pointed out at PRWeek's conference in 2011 these are not PR nightmares - they are “operating problems” or “decision-making issues.” They are management issues that could have been avoided by timely recourse to communications advice before the event, or that can be cleared up or ameliorated by the PR team after the fact. “PR nightmare” is a misnomer.
Look at AIG. Earlier this week, its directors came up with the startlingly stupid idea of suing the US government for its handling of the beleaguered bank's bailout. The next day, the company sensibly decided to drop the idea, faced by a public backlash.
One would hope that, in the interim, someone smart in the communications department had a word in the ear of the senior executives and persuaded them that perhaps this wasn't such a great idea given the public's views on banks and their behavior over recent years.
One would also hope that, next time, the bank will loop the PR team into the process prior to the event and that they would follow Schwartz's maxim of telling management “what it needs to hear,” not “what it wants to hear.” This was a management problem, not a PR problem.
The “PR nightmare” resolution stretches to the increasingly common habit of compiling lists of “10 Top PR Disasters” and such like. It only propagates the image of PR as a profession of spin doctors and firefighters clearing up messes of their own making. Everyone wants to learn from their mistakes, and from other people's mistakes, but let's celebrate best practice and proactive communications rather than painting PR as a disaster movie.
Thirdly, let's stop giving airtime to fatuous surveys about the “most stressful” jobs out there, of which PR is routinely quoted as being amongst.
As I've pointed out here before, PR pros work exceptionally hard, often under extremely difficult and trying circumstances. But let's not kid ourselves that the profession is up there stress-wise with the tribulations of first responders to disasters like Hurricane Sandy, or the teachers in the school at Sandy Hook, or the doctors and nurses who routinely cope with real life-or-death matters on a daily basis.
There are enough people in the mainstream media that are going to frame the communications industry in the above ways, let's not add fuel to the fire by joining in lemming-like.
We're better than this. We need to frame our industry in the context of the vital value it adds to businesses and organizations and the enduring contribution it makes to top-level strategy.
With that, I wish you a belated Happy New Year and success and prosperity in 2013, which is a landmark one for PRWeek as it is our 15th anniversary in the US. As we have done for the past 14 years, we will continue to accentuate the positive while not shying away from covering difficult issues.