Last week, the Advertising Association released the Advertising Pays report, a piece of work that put the value of advertising to the UK economy at £100 billion. At a time when advertiser funded media models continue to face pressure, particularly following huge spending cuts by government and when advertising budgets are being squeezed, this was a timely reminder to government on the value of the advertising industry. Advertising Pays sets out to quantify and qualify the economic effects of the £16bn spent on advertising in the UK every year. It sought to examine the return on investment for every £ spent on advertising claiming that for every £1 spent on advertising, the economy grows by £6.
CIPR (Chartered Institute of Public Relations) Board member Stephen Waddington has sparked an interesting debate about this amongst our own Board and has written a blog post about what the public relations profession can learn from this work in terms of our own external reputation. In response to Stephen’s blog, I considered some of the differences that he raises and the issue of confidence.
Stephen is spot on about how social media is changing the landscape in which public relations sits and the power we have to shape our own destiny and influence business at the most senior levels. We now live in an age of Public Relationships, where Public Relations can, and must, come out from the shadows in which it has often operated in the past. But the past is something worth looking at a bit before we move on to shape our future.
I started my career in marketing and advertising. We shouted about our campaigns, a good ad was something to celebrate and there was no shame in being seen to sell to the consumer. Advertising jingles were a part of my childhood and I have the ability to sing on demand the major TV ads of the 1970s and 80s.
But this happy nostalgia for and celebration of ad campaigns has a modern relevance. When I moved into public relations, one of the very first lessons I got was “never be the story”. In the last 50 years PR men and women have built reputations and empires by staying in the background, doing good work as professionals but never complaining and never explaining. If the CEO didn’t want to know how you got them in or out of the FT, then that was fine. You were judged on your results (or a version of them that was essentially columnn inches or lack of them) not always on the planning activity you undertook and that activity was often unquestioned.
And this has been a fundamental difference in how each of these professions is portrayed. It’s not just swagger and better suits, it’s about shop front verses back room. It’s about a history of NEVER being the story. We can’t be shocked when the rest of the business world has not adapted quickly enough to our change of approach in recent years. It’s time it did though as there is no doubt that times have changed and reputations depend on excellent public relations activity that links what a company does, directly to what it says.
I agree that something fundamental has changed. Organisations do not have the luxury of ‘hiding’ their public relations activity. The relationships they have are very public, happen in real time and are an ever increasing part of the bigger reputational picture for any organisation. These changes may have been facilitated by technology but they require a shift in culture: how organisations talk about their public relations activity, the recognition that when they engage with customers, shareholders, partners and employees that this is public relations and for PR practitioners, being prepared to embrace this new model as part of the job.
So, I think confidence plays a large part but it’s also recognition that what we do has changed, is evolving constantly and can take place in ‘PUBLIC’.
I agree that PR practitioners and the organisations that represent them can always do more to shout about the value of the profession and a study such as this could help that cause. Anything that shines a light on some of the great work done by many of my public relations colleagues can only be a good thing.