"I'm Just the PR Person"

JafarPublic Relations has often been portrayed as “the power behind the throne.”  The voice that whispers sage counsel to those in leadership positions.

In part this makes sense: “power” in the raw sense depends on the willingness of underlings to obey their marching orders.  Revolutions occur when the masses (including employees, Boards of Directors, etc.) decide that their leaders are incompetent or untrustworthy. 

Thus, “public relations” is a way to ensure that powerful forces bend to the will of the people … or at least come across that way!

But as the era of socialized communications dawns, it’s no longer acceptable for PR pros to shrug their way out of troubling situations with the lame excuse that, “I’m just the PR person.”

We’re out in the open. The advice of the “grand vizier” is no longer a whisper but is essentially shouted with a bullhorn.  Journalists and bloggers will publish our pitches, our names, our mistakes, without hesitation.  Our case studies are critiqued in public.  Our agency/client affiliations are increasingly hard to keep under wraps … which means that every client communications flap now reflects on the PR counsel, fairly or not.

Embrace this, fellow PR professional.  Do not despair!  We’re actually pretty darned smart.  There may be some clueless flacks among us, but let’s be honest: there are a fair number of clueless people in all corporate job functions.  In the main, we know our stuff; it is okay if the world knows and appreciates this, so long as the majority of the benefits acccrue to our clients.

You’re not “just” the PR person, not anymore.  More and more, you are the proud & public standard-bearer for the brands you serve, even while working agency-side.  Knowing this, yes, you must train harder.  Then you can jump fearlessly into the sunlight of Social Media.

Posted on: January 28, 2009 at 3:32 pm By Todd Defren
26 Responses to “"I'm Just the PR Person"”


  • Lindsey R. says:

    Our college professor instructed us to read an article or blog about PR and send them his definition of public relations, so here it is…

    Public Relations is the management function which evaluates public attitudes, identifies the policies and procedures of an individual or an organization with the public interest, and plans, executes and evaluates a program of action to earn public understanding and acceptance.


  • Twitter Comment

    The comparison to Jafar from Aladdin probably isn’t a home run, but a good blog entry about the power of PR people. [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

  • Alica Kroupa says:

    RE: “Im Just the PR Person”

    interesting post. You bring up a lot of good points.

    It should be the goal of any organization, not only the PR person to “be out in the open.” An organization’s transparency can become its biggest asset during a time of crisis. The growing trend of our agency/client affiliations becoming increasingly public is a key indication that we must now, more than ever realize our potential as PR practitioners.

    PR is not synonymous with publicity. Our only function is not to pitch stories, get coverage and produce media reports. We serve a management function; part of our job is to make sure that we manage these relationships as they become more public. If PR then, is a process of cultivating and managing relationships, it is crucial that we begin to understand and see the value of concerning ourselves not only with ourselves, but with others.

    Too many people generally assume that PR strives to influence how publics interpret any one organization. Although this is partly true, we must focus on emphasizing our ability to participate in strategic decision-making –to help manage the behavior of organizations.

    Unfortunately, this is a lot harder to do than it is to say. For this reason, we must start finding ways to measure our success. We must look for ways to demonstrate that what we have done has real value. In order to do this we have to first prove ourselves. This is not always easy, especially with all of the misconceptions of PR flying around.

    We must become comfortable with showing others in our organization that PR can not only save money, it can make money. So the next time that someone says prove it, you can. Going to your boss and saying, I got coverage in newspaper A, worth B advertising dollars doesn’t really say much about what we do. So we saved 25, 000. At the end of the day, who cares?

    But if you say to your boss, 30 people who read the article that we got in newspaper A, went to the website and participated in the blog, five of those people called and have asked to set up a business meeting to discuss our service C. The potential dollar making value of these meetings is $300, 000, which is money that PR has also generated, on top of the money it has saved.

    Like you said, there are a few bad apples in every field. For the most part though, we’re not just PR people, we are creative, outside the box strategists. This blog and our social media efforts are proof of that.

    Happy PRing.


  • Twitter Comment

    [link to post] “I’m just the PR Person”

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  • Twitter Comment

    No longer can we say “I’m just the PR person.” @tdefren riffs about PR’s new role in the 2.0 world: [link to post]. Thanks @scottmeis!

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

  • Twitter Comment

    “I’m Just the PR Person” | PR Squared – [link to post]

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  • Danny Brown says:

    This is (or should be) true of whether the PR professional or agency is operating in social media or not.

    Problem is, success has a nasty way of going to someone’s head and they start to believe their own hype. At the end of the day, yes, we advise but we also need to listen to our client’s needs.

  • Matt says:

    using the excuse “i’m just the PR person” aggravates me to no end. there are still many people out there who perceive PR to be a trivial profession. using that phrase serves only to justify their thinking.

    we are, after all, “the power behind the throne,” as it were. certainly not a trivial position. act accordingly.

  • This post reminded me of a story my boss shared. When he was a green PR pro years ago, before the rise of social media, he called a radio station to pitch a client’s new product. He got right through to the personalities (also the news editors), who talked to him for a very long time and asked a lot of questions about said client’s new product. At the end of his pitch/conversation, the radio personalities clicked a button to turn off their recording devices.

    My boss had just given an interview about his client’s product.

    Yep. He freaked out. He also caught a lot of flak for it from his agency. However, he survived. More importantly, he knew enough about his client’s services to play a bigger role than “just the PR guy.”

    While this is an extreme circumstance, it’s a great example why we should intimately understand our client’s businesses, especially in the Web 2.0 world. That way, if we ever find ourselves all of a sudden “being interviewed,” we can truly act as a brand ambassador.

  • Twitter Comment

    Nice reminder from @tdefren – PR people need to take responsibility and own the profession – [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

  • Way to go Todd!

    There is still a problem however in where the social media ‘sits’ – that is, do all PR people learn how to use all social media, or just a core team, or somewhere in-between?

    I’m sorry, did I say problem? I meant opportunity!

  • Great advice. And even though social media has the power to cause problems, like having that bad pitch published for all to see, it also offers a great opportunity to engage in a conversation with others.

  • I can’t say that I know of any practitioner who knows their craft claiming “I’m only the PR person”. I’m seeing a dominant coalition across the blogosphere and a fierce firefight of opinion by self-appointed sages being blasted across Twitter in a noise of social media specialism.

    I’m watching and noting as opposed to ‘performing’ to make rank and all the while I keep reminding myself of the CIPR definition – just to keep it real.

    “Public relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics”.

  • Bobbie says:

    Heck, even before social media, this was all true! As a former PR agency staffer I spent a lot of time getting up to speed quickly on several brands, products and companies. I had to be conversant on everything from the competition to adjacent markets so I could talk to the media. All that knowledge was also used to counsel clients (“sage counsel”), helping them make important business decisions with the media and public’s likely reaction in mind. PR isn’t just out-bound communications, it also takes information back into the organization. Anyone who dismisses PR (then and now) isn’t taking advantage of a huge amount of knowledge and expertise available inherent in the function.

  • You speak the truth. And we have seen that with Ketchum recently. A friend of mine who has personal ties had a small discussion about that blunder with me they other day.

    Socialization is a “power” equalizer, but a “power” of its own that PR professional have to contend with, but also use effectively.

  • Thanks for the pep talk Todd. We needed it!

  • Twitter Comment

    Retweeting @raxlakhani: PR Squared: “I’m Just the PR Person” [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

  • Twitter Comment

    PR Squared: “I’m Just the PR Person” [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

  • Twitter Comment

    extra points to @tdefren for including a sweet picture of Jafar in this solid post. [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

  • Twitter Comment

    We’re not *Just* PR people (anymore): [link to post] From @Tdefren

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

  • Twitter Comment

    “You are the proud & public standard-bearer for the brands you serve.” Great rallying call from @TDefren. Full blog here:[link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

  • Twitter Comment

    @TDefren [link to post] Iago was PR. Intro-ing the CEO… “Ladies and gentlemen, a warm Agrabah welcome for Sorcerer Jafar!”

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

  • Ryan Fisher says:

    Iago was PR. Intro-ing the CEO… “Ladies and gentlemen, a warm Agrabah welcome for Sorcerer Jafar!” – Ryan @rdf_pr

  • Twitter Comment

    RT @TDefren: New blog post: “I’m Just the PR Person” (I *hate* that and it doesn’t cut it anymore.) [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

  • True enough! But the key is convincing the C-Suite that dropping the top-down “message strategy” they have heard for year after year, and allowing their PR people to be proud of where they work, is actually a benefit for their organization in the long run.

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