Yesterday while cleaning my house, my daughter was watching Kim Kardashian and all of the bizarre antics of her family. Afterward another show came on,”Command PR” about a celebrity public relations firm that unfortunately seems to embody the worst stereotypes of our profession–shallow, looks-obsessed people chasing after headlines and celebrity endorsements for clients. Kardashian and this firm are successful in getting attention and getting noticed. That’s a big part of the battle but it’s not all of it.
As I watched the show the way one watches a train wreck, I once again understand why too many people look down on PR as frivolous. It’s unfortunate because PR at its best has the power to move people to act in positive ways–to eat better, to come together to help others, to fight injustice and to buy and use products that are of benefit to them. What makes a good PR person? Here is my list 5 attributes.
1) Honest – PR, better known by some as Spin, is about putting the best light on a situation, helping to portray issues, companies, organizations, in a positive way. That doesn’t mean lying. (If you have to lie, it’s probably not a very good product.) A good PR person helps a client tell the truth even when it’s not so pleasant.
2) Thorough – A good PR person does their homework and has a healthy skepticism. A good PR person checks and double checks the facts and veracity of any statement and makes sure that it can be properly sourced. I remember once that the CEO of an organization I was working in gave a fact to a TIME magazine reporter that I had been trying to find but never could. After the interview, I asked the CEO where he’d gotten that information and he told me he made it up. Horrified, I called the reporter back and told her that the CEO has misstated something, that he had extrapolated based on other numbers. It was a tough call to make–I didn’t want to embarrass my CEO but at the same time I didn’t want incorrect information out there.
3) Creative. – A good PR person is able to connect the client’s product, idea, cause to the audiences they seek to reach. I”ll never forget a clever campaign that came across my desk when I was a reporter. It was for a roach killer and they pitched it as birth control for roaches. It was funny and original and we covered it. I still remember it more than 20 years later. Another example is a campaign I was involved with around endangered historic buildings. Instead of pitching a wonderful old Southern MD mansion as a priceless piece of architecture that might disappear, we pitched the fact that the descendant of the mansion’s owner, a slave holder, and the descendant of a slave who worked on this property were both involved trying to save this house for very different reasons. We pitched it to a reporter at the NY Times who covered race not architecture and that coverage lead to pieces on the TODAY Show and CBS Sunday Morning and support and funding to help keep this historic treasure around for future generations.
4) Clear – A good PR person is an excellent writer and speaker who knows how to get ideas across in a variety of media. Clear writing is clear thinking.
5) Aware – A good PR person is engaged in the world and keeps up with the news in the clients’ industries as well as current events and trends and developments within our own “industry.” That means understanding social media and its implications. PR’s job is to bring the outside in as well as the inside out. We have to help our clients understand how their work fits into a larger context so that they can participate effectively in the bigger conversations that are taking place about their issues, causes or products.
To be sure the antics of Kim Kardashian and a firm like Command PR may make good television but it isn’t good PR for our profession. What do you think? And what do you think are the qualities of good PR practitioners?