PR career advice at RMIT, but are PRs listening?

Earlier this week, I guested on a PR ‘expert’ panel at RMIT Uni, courtesy of an invite from lecturer Graeme Domm. Sitting alongside me on the panel were former Comms Director of Kraft Foods Australia, Andrew Kilsby, and Burson Marsteller Melbourne MD, Pia De Lima. The soon-to-graduate PR cubs were looking for some insight into future PR trends. Andrew flagged that
specialisation in a PR niche was the way to develop your career and particularly that the enviromental and online arenas were huge growth areas. Andrew opined that Crisis Comms was not likely to grow much, as companies were becoming more aware of negating PR risks. So no PR Disasters Vol 2 then? I talked about the disappearance of the line between the personal and professional you, and the critical importance of managing your own PR, especially in the online environment.
Pia held court for a bit, but ruffled my feathers by saying that PR was essentially all about “creating influence and opinion where there is none”. She quoted Harold Burson but might have well used Bernay’s manipulative, ‘engineering of consent’ model. As good an agency as Burson might be, I sensed that Pia’s PRs primarily practice a very traditional press agentry model of the craft. Though as Pia is a former journo, you might expect that. What I felt was missing from her pitch (and I said so) was the PR strategy of listening; the two way model of communications advocated by PR poster boy James Grunig. I think the new media scene makes the skill of listening to stakeholders an absolute essential.
Then, I saw a few young heads nod, as did Graeme’s too. But a lot of big paying clients just want coverage, influence, power, without any genuine stakeholder consultation. So for the young PR types, they got some insights on specialisation as a career management strategy from Andrew, a flavour of consultancy life at Burson from Pia and encouragement on how to hone their own reputation management skills from me – maybe taking a bit from each advice platter would see them right eh?

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5 thoughts on “PR career advice at RMIT, but are PRs listening?

  1. Interesting post. The bit I find fascinating is clients’ frequent insistence that coverage in print and broadcast are all that count.
    Some PRs I know are now fighting this very hard in the niche they work in, because print page and byline counts have collapsed.
    From what I hear, it is a very tough fight to convince clients that going beyond mainstream media is worth doing and stakeholder consultation only matters when you need to quell NIMBYism

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  2. Ta Simon. Am about to post on another PR type who shares a similarly traditional view of PR (in BRW). But as you say, maybe it’s the paymasters fault, tho educating them’s part of the PR remit.

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  3. Gerry your summation of the guest lecture was rather impartial I might add. The definition of what is PR “to create an opinion or attitude where is none, reinforce an opinion that already exists or change an existing opinion” is probably the simplest delivery in a 60 second slot.
    Creating, reinforcing or changing an opinion can only effectively be done by understanding the perspective and the drivers of the end user. These third year students would be well versed with the fact (I am sure RMIT course director Graeme Domm would bet on it) that there are always at least two competing voices in every conversation – there’s what you want to say or communicate and there’s the little voice in the back of the head of the person whom you are speaking to. This little voice is louder and more believable and unless you address these issues you’ve failed PR 101.
    Public Relations has indeed moved on from a press agentery/publicity role – it is a discipline that has slowly but surely taken its place as a strategic function whether delivered in-house or with the support of an external agency.
    Perhaps also some words of (Gerry’s edit ‘aditional’) wisdom about your caution about the emerging social media scene and face book. http://www.digitalperspectiveblog.com/2007/08/25/wikipedia-facebook-and-engaging-employees/

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  4. Ta for your thoughts and the fresh link, Pia – just calling it the way I heard and saw it. I never heard you mention listening as an engagement fundamental, until I raised the topic. Maybe there’s a fundamental difference in the way we view the PR and communications process. You talk of competing voices in any communication – I’d prefer to use listening and understanding as a means of achieving comprehension. That’s the positive precursor to creating genuine dialogue, which I think is a more progressive, and completely up to date way of practicing ‘PR’ and ‘relating’ to any kind of stakeholders.

    And fyi via The Friendly Ghost, here’s a link to further accentuate how the battelground for PR & reputation is increasingly gonna be fought on the Web: http://www.myragantv.com/video/?d=362 (By the way, this imbalanced piece by Stauber ain’t too kind to BM)

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  5. What trite empty words from Pia. She may well have been an old journo, though I have never seen her byline, but no self respecting journo will use phrases, that mean very little. PR types get paid by the number of words they write .. do they?

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