“Headlines,” as one of my earliest sub-editors once told me, “don’t do nuance”. So it is with Management Today’s detailed analysis of the modern PR industry, which begins in less-than-auspicious style by describing PR people as “spin masters”. Look past the headline, though, and you will find a mainstream business title that, for once, does not demonise or trivialise the PR industry. Instead, Jeremy Hazlehurst opts for a complex and – yes – nuanced overview which recognises the central importance of truth and corporate behaviour to any modern in-house PR function, while also gently debunking some of the more utopian tropes that can surround the discipline’s rise up the boardroom agenda.
A rather more deflationary view comes from former Edelman EMEA CEO Robert Phillips, who sees the PR industry’s continued disregard for data as a genuine threat to the sector’s future. There is a sense that Phillips, newly freed from his Edelman obligations, is getting a few things off his chest, which makes for compelling reading. Much of his post, calling for a better grasp of data and a more concrete focus on ideas and outcomes, is difficult to disagree with, and if the prognosis is a touch gloomy for January, the honesty must be applauded.
Another must-read comes from David Wolf, whose observations of China Inc’s PR issues are rarely anything less than perceptive. Wolf, newly-ensconced as the head of Allison + Partners new global China practice, points out that coverage of these issues often “misdiagnoses” the problem as one of transparency. Yet, “for Chinese companies,” says Wolf, “transparency is useless if all it reveals is a company engaged in unsavory or nefarious behavior,” calling to mind, perhaps, Huawei’s continued attempts to dodge questions over its ownership. Wolf’s reminder – that transparency is pointless unless accompanied by a focus on behaviour – is timely, and one that we have considered in some detail before, notably in this article on CNOOC’s acquisition of Canada’s Nexen.
Was 2012 a “lost year” for PR agencies? Peter Himler appears to think so, pointing to the disconnect that still exists between a digitally-converged world, and an industry that still relies heavily on media relations expertise. Himler’s points are well made, and have plenty in common with Phillips’ post cited earlier. He also neatly sums up the irony in a digital/startup sector that views PR firms, overwhelmingly, in terms of their media relations skills. Regardless, that the rank and file are losing relevance should be of some concern, even as we celebrate the outliers that are driving the PR industry forward.