• The “10 Commandments for Public Relations Professionals”

    by  • December 2, 2011 • On Public Relations

    For your consideration, here are the thought-provoking “10 Commandments for Public Relations Professionals” offered by Paul Holmes, editor and publisher of Inside PR in a speech to Public Relations Society of America members in Pittsburgh.

    1. Thou shalt not be corporate communications. The current vogue of renaming public relations, particularly in-house, as corporate communications, is a cosmetic solution to a substantive problem: the declining reputation of the public relations industry. While that declining reputation needs to be addressed, it should not be addressed by giving our profession a name that suggests a much narrower function. Public relations must be much more than communications. It must be about building relationships, and the focus should be external, on the public, rather than internal, on the corporation.
    2. Thou shalt not integrate. The ownership of public relations firms by advertising agencies is one of the fundamental moral evils of our time. Public relations is a process, advertising is a tool of that process. It makes no sense for a tactical function like advertising to control a strategic function like public relations, and the result can only be corruption of the public relations process. If clients wish to integrate communications messages they will be far better served finding the best independent PR firm and the best independent advertising agency and doing so themselves.
    3. Thou shalt not listen to the client. One of the worst mistakes a PR counselor can make is assuming that clients understand their own problems and the public’s attitudes toward them. One of the most important roles of the public relations function is providing informed, intelligent analyses of public perceptions and suggesting ways those perceptions may be changed. The basis for that is research, not the client’s own beliefs about a situation.
    4. Thou shalt not be the conscience of the corporation. Corporations do not have consciences. They have bottom lines. Framing public relations as a discipline that is about ethics and “doing the right thing” simply makes it disposable and irrelevant. Rather, public relations professionals should talk in terms of reputation as a corporate asset with a bottom line value and position themselves as the people responsible for maintaining the value of that asset. This also shifts the focus away from a set of internal ethical rules and towards the external audiences and their likely reactions to a position.
    5. Thou shalt not put the customer first. Without the support of customers no company can exist, runs the argument. Therefore, customers are the most important public. Unfortunately, companies cannot exist without the support of employees, government, shareholders or local communities either. All of these publics demand equal attention, and placing customers—seeing problems from a marketing perspective—first has had a negative impact on many U.S. businesses, particularly in terms of total quality management and corporate environmentalism.
    6. Thou shalt not believe the myth of the crisis plan. The key to successful crisis management is not in planning, media training and the preparation of a three-inch file that guides behavior. It is in developing a corporate culture that encourages people to behave in a manner that considers the reputational implications of all decisions, both in and out of crisis. This improves crisis response and may actually avert problems.
    7. Thou shalt not avoid controversy. Companies must come to realize that they live in a more complex world than they did 10 years ago, and that their decisions—on corporate philanthropy, employment policy, PAC contributions—are going to be judged by consumers and others. They must learn not to equivocate, but to decide what they believe and be guided by those beliefs.
    8. Thou shalt not explain the facts. The tendency of specialized, technical institutions to respond to the fears and the concerns of the general public with facts and statistics has been widely counterproductive. Corporations should concentrate, instead, on balancing the provision of information with behavioral programs that give people a reason to trust them, engineering concern by understanding the emotional, not statistical, basis for public relations.
    9. Thou shalt not court the media. Increasingly, the media are an obstacle to, rather than a channel for, effective public relations. The concept of balance, as applied to business stories, makes it increasingly difficult for companies to express their points of view through the media. Furthermore, people increasingly distrust mass media. Rather, public relations professionals should aim to develop personal, face-to-face programs that build trust and create credibility.
    10. Thou shalt not measure thy performance. Public relations professionals should stop measuring their performance—in terms of output, media impressions, favorable mentions—and start measuring their audience’s reaction to that performance in terms of behavior, sales, voting, productivity or whatever the desired result may be.