Call me an advocate

plusssmbinEvery six months or so, I have the distinct pleasure of breaking bread with one of our industry’s preeminent thought leaders. This is a gentleman who pioneered strategic partnerships, enjoyed countless successes and reinvented himself many times over.

So, I was more than curious when he recently shared a story with me.

He’d been approached to join one of our industry’s top trade groups.
“I said no way,” he told me.
“You didn’t see the cost-benefit ratio?” I asked.
“I don’t want to join a PR industry group because I don’t want to be known as a PR firm anymore,” he responded.

I know what he means. We abandoned the PR moniker about three years ago, and now describe ourselves as an integrated strategic communications firm (whatever that means) and now have full advertising capabilities.

PR firms everywhere are struggling with the same name game. The best, and brightest, have expanded into many new fields and now routinely compete with ad agencies, digital shops, word-of-mouth specialists— you name it. Sometimes I half expect to be told we lost a pitch to a plumbing outfit that offered to handle the prospect’s PR and HVAC repair.

I don’t get hung-up on the name game. In my mind, it’s easy to differentiate what my firm does from just about every other one. And, I use words and visuals that wouldn’t occur to most.

I see Peppercomm first, and foremost, as an advocate. But, we’re no longer solely an advocate for our client. We also represent the best interests of the multiple audiences our client is trying to engage.

So, we listen to the wants and needs of each.

I then draw an intersection on a white board. I call one line ‘Client Street.’ I describe the other one as ‘Audience Avenue.’ And I sketch the figure of a traffic cop in the middle. ‘That’s Officer Peppercomm in the middle,’ I say. ‘It’s our job to understand exactly how and where you and your audiences need to meet. If we don’t listen long and hard to both of you, one of two things will happen:

– You’ll pass each other by (and there will be no interaction at all).
– You’ll collide head-on (with the consumer suing you for reckless and unnecessary messaging).

Getting back to my buddy’s desire to distance himself from PR, I often wonder what our industry trade groups and media must be thinking right now:

– Does PR Week (which already has a naming problem since it’s a daily and a monthly, but not a weekly) become MarCom Week? Ugh.
– Does the Public Relations Society of America become the Engagement League (since everyone and his brother wants to engage in authentic conversations with audiences).
– Does PR News become U News since everything nowadays is all about personalizing the messaging in order to become an important part of each, and every, audience member’s life?

Beats me. I’m happy directing traffic and being an advocate. I’ll let my breakfast buddy and the industry trades and media figure out how they want to handle the name game. One thing’s for sure, though: PR is just too limiting a term to accurately define who we are, and what we do.

7 thoughts on “Call me an advocate

  1. About a month ago I was watching “The Rockford Files” on Hulu. He is led into an office to talk with a mobbed-up union boss, played by Abe Vigoda.
    Rockford: Do you have a goon working for you named Muzzy Manette?
    Vigoda: Mr. Rockford, this is the age of public relations. Mr. Manette is a labor relations consultant.

    Apparently the age of public relations is over and you’re absolutely right that PR is too limiting at this point. Yes, integrated strategic communications firm is a mouthful. Do people still say, “so that’s like advertising, right?”

    We all find it hard to encapsulate the thing we’re doing. For brevity, my tagline is Copy & Content. Sales & Solutions. But I’m also a blogger, social media evangelist, bloviator, RFP/business plan strategist, ghost/specs/tech/news writer, community manager and a limo chauffeur when the money’s good. On top of that, the firm I have an interest in does creative services and collateral. I’m good, but I don’t know how to put that in 4 words.

  2. Steve: You should add the Council of PR Firms to your list. Several members told me at their meeting last fall that the group should have a new name. It was founded in 1999 and celebrated its 15th anniversary. Only seven of the 50 largest firms in our ranking of “PR Firms” uses PR in their titles.

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