August 9, 2022
In this solo episode, Jason Mudd explains why he thinks the modern PR industry is a train wreck. After giving a brief history of the industry, Jason explains that PR professionals are relying too much on earned media, expanding their scope of work too much, letting non-PR experts take lead in PR efforts, aren’t thinking big enough, and are incorrectly measuring PR.
Tune in to learn what you can do to help fix this mess!
Watch the episode here
5 things you’ll learn during the full episode:
- A brief history of PR
- What PR is
- Why the modern PR industry is a train wreck
- How to elevate your career in PR
- How PR pros should be measuring PR
- Listen to more episodes of the On Top of PR podcast.
- Find out more about Axia Public Relations.
- Find Jason Mudd on Twitter.
- Connect and learn more about Jason Mudd on LinkedIn.
- Additional resources from Axia Public Relations:
[00:30] Background of the train-wreck PR industry
- The modern PR industry started out as a train wreck.
- In 1906, Ivy Lee wanted to get news out about a train wreck.
- The New York Times published Ivy Lee’s statement.
- This way of spreading information would evolve into what we now call a news release.
Jason: “They ran it verbatim, which to me is the ultimate compliment. That means you wrote a news release in a great way and you wrote it so well that the news outlet thought it was written perfectly. They didn't make any edits or changes or cuts or trims or anything like that. When that happens, you should celebrate.”
- Ivy Lee is considered the father of modern PR, or at least the father of the modern press release.
[1:55] Modern PR is still a train wreck
Jason: “The PR industry was born out of a train wreck, modern PR industry was born out of train wreck. Maybe it's still a train wreck and we should really do some exploration about the current practice of PR.”
[02:40] PR professionals lean too much on earned media/media coverage
- People typically define public relations as “getting media coverage,” when in reality it’s so much more.
- Yes, PR includes networking, event planning, news releases, and earned media.
- But, it also includes the relationships built and strengthened between a brand and consumers, paid media options, website and brand design, and much more!
Jason: “[PR] is about the public that you serve through building mutually beneficial relationships.”
[3:38] PR pros are doing too much
Jason: “You can't be an expert in everything. You can't be producing a newsletter, managing the website, managing social media, doing earned media, and all these other activities … If you're busy doing all this activity and no strategy, … you're never going to rise above the work.”
- PR pros have stretched their scope to cover too much.
Jason: “The way I define public relations is creative problem-solving and then communicating about it.”
- By nature, we want to be helpful. We try to be helpful and end up doing things that are under a really broad umbrella of PR.
- You can pivot to help with further tasks if that’s something you want to do professionally, but if not you need to stand up and say “I'm a PR expert, and I’m here to guide you.” Draw that boundary.
[08:23] PR pros are letting non-experts mandate them to do activities they aren’t experts in
Jason: “Take a defensive posture and stand up for yourself as the expert. Don't become an order-taker; instead, become an adviser.”
[09:40] PR pros aren’t thinking big enough
- PR pros are risk averse and play it safe and comfortable
Jason: “No strong brand was built being comfortable. No strong brand or fast-growing company grew because they were comfortable and they played it safe. No, they took risks and they thought expansively.”
- Think big. Take risks. Be bold. That’s how your reputation and career will grow.
Jason: “Don’t be boring!”
- Never compromise your values.
[10:59] As a PR profession, we aren’t measuring what matters
- Inaccurately measuring PR is a huge issue right now.
- Check out past episodes with Johna Burke, a measurement expert from AMEC, and Katie Paine, which are dedicated to measuring PR.
Jason: “We need to start measuring what matters and stop measuring what doesn't matter. And what doesn't matter, oftentimes, are vanity metrics like impressions, advertising value equivalency, likes, shares, comments, clicks, et cetera. What matters is how many people did you truly reach, and how many people did you impress or educate them or get them to change an opinion.”
- Adopt and pivot to the priorities your leadership team and organization care about and measure.
Jason: “If you want a seat to the table, if you want to be a trusted adviser, if you want to be valued in your career, valued for your advice, if you want more compensation, you want more opportunities, more clout, more status in the industry, this is where you do it, is in PR measurement. You learn how to measure your impact to the overall organization … The only way PR can elevate to the level I think it deserves is that if we get on the same page and we make these adjustments as a profession. We move from being a potential train wreck, and I say that provocatively, to trusted, valued partners across the enterprise and on behalf of clients and brands.”
About Jason Mudd
On Top of PR host Jason Mudd is a trusted adviser and dynamic strategist for some of America’s most admired brands and fastest-growing companies. Since 1994, he’s worked with American Airlines, Budweiser, Dave & Buster’s, H&R Block, Hilton, HP, Miller Lite, New York Life, Pizza Hut, Southern Comfort, and Verizon. He founded Axia Public Relations in July 2002. Forbes named Axia as one of America’s Best PR Agencies.
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- [Announcer] Welcome to On Top of PR with Jason Mudd, presented by ReviewMaxer.
- Hello, and welcome to On Top of PR. I'm your host, Jason Mudd, with Axia Public Relations. Today's a solocast where it's just you and me, and we're talking about an issue or a topic trend or tip in public relations that I think you would find valuable. And so, as you're listening to this episode, if you find it valuable, please be thinking about who you might share this episode with who would also find it valuable.
So I was doing some writing recently, and I was reminded that the modern PR industry actually started out as a train wreck. And I know that sounds hyperbole or maybe even flashy or attention-getting, but in 1906, Ivy Lee was working for Pennsylvania railroad, and there was a train wreck. And the train wreck, he wanted to get information out there quickly and to the media about the train wreck so that they knew it happened and that family and friends and loved ones of the passengers who died or who were injured in that train wreck or delayed in their arrival from that train wreck, so they would know what happened to them. And so The New York Times published Ivy Lee's statement, which later would become known as a press release or today called a news release. They ran it verbatim, which to me is the ultimate compliment. That means you wrote a news release in a great way and you wrote it so well that the news outlet thought it was written perfectly. They didn't make any edits or changes or cuts or trims or anything like that. When that happens, you should celebrate. And of course, Ivy Lee did it. He knocked it out of the park the first time he did it, and he's considered kind of the father of the modern PR, the father of the modern press release at least. And that was back in 1906.
But as I started thinking about this and doing some writing, I had this idea that maybe the PR industry was born out of a train wreck, modern PR industry was born out of train wreck. Maybe it's still a train wreck and we should really do some exploration about the current practice of PR. And so, I'm going to just kind of talk about this a little bit. You may disagree with some of the things I share, and that's fine. Anytime you're sharing something that's contrarian or provocative, you're going to have people who disagree. And I encourage you to share your feedback with me. I want to hear about it. I want to hear what you like, what you don't like about what I say. Some of it may not be true for you at all as a professional, and some of it may be very true for other professionals, but these are just some of my observations having worked in the business for 25 years.
So, first of all, I think we as PR people, number one, we lean way too much on earned media and media coverage and news coverage. And people tend to define public relations as just getting media coverage. But PR is so much more than that. It's about the public that you serve through building mutually beneficial relationships. I've heard executives say to me all the time, "I don't know what PR is, but I know we need it." And when you really lean in and ask them what they think PR is, they think it's press releases and media coverage. They sometimes think it's parties and tea at the golf club or playing golf and things like that. And sure, that might be an element of PR. It might be an element of media relations and earned media and networking and event planning and things like that. And so I think (the) No. 1 thing we do wrong as PR pros is we depend too much on earned media as the only way PR works, and it's just not true. The second thing is though, I think that while we emphasize earned media as a profession and as professionals too much, and with all respect, there are some professionals who don't even practice earned media. They focus on employee communication. They focus on investor relations. They focus on something completely different than working with the media. And that's great because I think we need more representation in PR that is beyond media coverage.
But the second thing I want to talk about is I think we're also doing too much. And what does that mean? While I caveat saying earlier, we depend too much on earned media, we are also doing too much. And what I mean by that is small departments or solo PR practitioners who are working by themselves, you can only do too much. You can't be an expert in everything. You can't be producing a newsletter, managing the website, managing social media, doing earned media, and all these other activities. And then also your most important role is probably being a trusted adviser to leadership and to management and to department heads and to the board and maybe even to investors. And so if you're busy doing all this activity and no strategy, you're never going to get anything done. You're never going to rise above the work. You're never going to be able to think expansively and creatively and be available of clear mind to be a true adviser to the company on what it should do next.
So I also, by saying we're doing too much, I don't just mean all the responsibilities and things that are falling on our lap and that are becoming our new responsibilities and maybe even our new burdens. I also think we're doing too much because we, by nature, want to be helpful people. The way I define public relations is creative problem-solving and then communicating about it. And I think that we try to get into that problem-solving mode a little too much. And so we're willing to do things that really aren't under the broadest umbrella of PR. And so, for example, I've seen PR departments and PR professionals be challenged with managing the company's small media-buying program, challenged by designing advertising, and maybe even producing commercials or videos. And I think there are such things as public relations videos that are focused on public relations strategy and messaging. But I don't think a PR department should be out there creating videos that are for television commercials or advertisements. I don't think PR people should be designing ads. I don't think PR people should be buying and negotiating ads. Now, it's one thing if PR has an initiative and it senses that we could get more visibility and more awareness and educate more consumers if we bolt it on a little bit of advertising. A little bit of advertising is OK, especially if it's a PR message, but if that's the focus of your job and your role, and then you're also expected to do earned media and you're also expected to do all these other things, it's just not reasonable for anything. It's going to lead to being stressed out and burnt out and missed expectations. And maybe, and as we talked in a recent episode or an upcoming episode about, imposter syndrome.
So I think those are important things to kind of know your limits and know when you're doing too much, learn to kind of stay in the area that you're comfortable with and experienced with. Feel free to seek opportunities where you want to grow in advance, but don't try to be everything and be overly helpful to everyone. And another example of this might be that you're writing and designing brochures, you're building websites and trying to learn how to build a website, and maybe you're trying to build an app. When really, you should be looking to have an expert in that space. And sometimes, our professional associations are not very good about supporting this because they're out there providing training and workshop and content about how to build an app and how to build a website. And I think they're focused too much on the technical side instead of the advisory role of, "Well, if you're going to build an app, here are things to consider. Here's some advice to give to leadership." I think that's great. But if you're trying to get in the weeds and become the technician of how to produce that, I think that's where we are getting out of our lane.
And again, unless that's something you want to pivot into for your own profession, then jump on that as an opportunity and pursue it. But if someone is bringing you those expectations, I think you've got to stand up for yourself and take a little defensive posture and say, "Hey, I'm a public relations expert. I'm here to guide you on PR issues and challenges and be your adviser. But this is something that I'm not comfortable doing or we don't have the bandwidth to accomplish or we lack the expertise and we need to go outside to get those expertise." Also, I think that there's two other things we're doing is we're letting non-experts, like our managers or our leadership team or maybe even our C-suite and CEO, mandate us to do these types of activities that we're not experts in. Or maybe they're also giving you advice and direction and criteria to do certain things in public relations that just aren't accurate. They're not right; it's not ethical. It's not a fit for what PR should be doing. It's not the role of PR. It's not the responsible things to do. So to that end, I would say also take a defensive posture and stand up for yourself as the expert. Don't become an order-taker; instead, become an adviser. Tell these people, "I hear what you're asking me to do and I understand why you want it done, but instead, I recommend we find an outside expert. Instead, I think we focus on audience-focused messages instead of company-focused messages. I think telling this story where it's focused on us instead of focused on helping our audience is not the right move."
So stand up for yourself a little bit, stand up for the profession, take the role of leading, guiding, and educating. Because if you don't lead, they can't follow. And if you don't lead, you're just going to become an order-taker, and you're going to become undervalued. The other thing I want to talk about is the PR profession – I don't think we're thinking big enough, and I definitely don't think we're taking enough risk. If anything, I think we're entering an environment where we're risk-averse and we're just playing it safe and playing it comfortable. But no strong brand was built being comfortable. No strong brand or fast-growing company grew because they were comfortable and they played it safe. No, they took risks and they thought expansively. So, I want to encourage you to think big and take risks. That's the way your reputation and your career is going to grow. Don't compromise your values. Don't compromise ethics. Always be thinking about others first. Always be kind to others. Always do the right thing. But I think we could take some risk, we could take some stances. We could come up with some creative and clever campaigns that stand out in the marketplace that resonate with people, that do some bold things and have some bold tactics and some bold messaging, but don't be boring is my point. And I think that we need to kind of step out of that trend.
Of course, we need to think about diversity, equity, and inclusion. We need to think about our audiences and how they might react to some of the things we're doing. We need to consider all of those things and be wise counselors. But sometimes, if a company wants to stand out, it's got to do things that are outstanding. The other thing I want to talk about is that, as a PR profession, we are not measuring what matters. And I think this is one of the biggest issues I see in PR right now, and something that I'm working actively to try to help the industry change. And we've had an episode with Johna Burke, who's a measurement expert from AMEC. We've had Katie Paine on this show. Please check out those early episodes where we talk about PR measurement, how to do it well, how to do it right. We need to start measuring what matters and stop measuring what doesn't matter. And what doesn't matter, oftentimes, are vanity metrics like impressions, advertising value equivalency, likes, shares, comments, clicks, et cetera. What matters is how many people did you truly reach, and how many people did you impress or create a new per educate them or get them to change an opinion.
So I think it was Steve Jobs who said advertising builds awareness, but great PR educates. And I think PR actually does a great job of building awareness. But at the end of the day, you do want people to understand and be educated. And so, by measuring what matters, I'm talking about, first of all, getting an alignment with your leadership team and your organization. What are they measuring? What are their priorities for the year, for the quarter, for the company, for the division that you work with? What are they tracking? What do they care about? Begin to adopt and pivot into their space. I guarantee you your C-suite, if they're worth their weight, is not sitting around going, "How many people like our social media page? How many people like our post? How many people are sharing and commenting on our post?"
An example that I've been giving recently is I'm part of a community Facebook group where people talk about restaurants and things going on in the community. And somebody posted about a new restaurant opening. And it was really crickets on that Facebook post for several hours, maybe even days. My wife and I went to this new breakfast restaurant, and sitting in there, we were talking and it was not a full place – it's kind of a small venue. And you could, if you listen carefully, you could hear what everybody was saying. As I was listening to what people were saying in the room, I noticed everyone was telling the staff or each other they heard about this new restaurant in that community Facebook post. So I went in and I took a look at the Facebook post. Not a lot of likes, not a lot of shares, not a lot of comments. There were actually more people in the restaurant in that moment than had liked that community group post. But then the community group post expanded as people started commenting saying, "I went there today and I had a good experience," or "I went there today and they weren't open yet," or whatever they might have said.
The point is, is that if you looked out on the surface, it could have had a lot of likes, comments and shares or it could have had none. What matters is how many people actually did something? How many people took action because of that social media post? And I'm here to tell you that social media and that post drove people to that new restaurant because it was a shiny and new thing and people started talking about it. But people had to go there first, it seems, with this particular post before it got any type of engagement. Now, again, your C-suite's not worried about likes, comments, and shares – they're worried about driving revenue or driving support and decisions. Maybe you work in politics, you're worried about votes. Maybe you work in nonprofit, you're worried about volunteerism and donations. So look at what the highest level in your organization is focused on. If you want a seat to the table, if you want to be a trusted adviser, if you want to be valued in your career, valued for your advice, if you want more compensation, you want more opportunities, more clout, more status in the industry, this is where you do it, is in PR measurement. You learn how to measure your impact to the overall organization.
We're going to share resources in the episode notes to help you with this. So, please find the episode notes. We're going to show you a framework for how to measure PR. We're going to provide a link to a webinar we've done on this topic. We're going to provide links to AMEC. We're going to provide links to paying publishing. We're going to provide links to the episodes we've had those two individuals on. We're going to help you understand how to better measure PR because I believe very strongly that if we as an industry come together, adopt existing global standards of measurement, and we start measuring PR collectively as a profession and we start emphasizing it, requiring it, prioritizing it, we will elevate, as a profession, our role, our value, our positioning, our compensation, our opportunities. I think this is a great way for you to find more success in your field, receive more value and more opportunity in your career and for PR to become elevated in the mind of the C-suites and the executives. So we can go from a position of "I don't know what PR is, but I know we need it" to a position of "I know exactly what PR is, I know how it works and why it works, and I know we need more of it, and we're willing to pay for it." And I think that's something that everyone just took a moment and pause when they listen to this: “willing to pay for it.” Everybody says they don't have enough budget. Everybody's jealous of how much the advertising department has or the marketing department has. The only way PR can elevate to the level I think it deserves is that if we get on the same page and we make these adjustments as a profession. We move from being a potential train wreck, and I say that provocatively, to trusted, valued partners across the enterprise and on behalf of clients and brands, and that PR becomes what it really is, which is an incredible competitive advantage and a great way for a company to build a strong brand and reputation. Let me know what you think. I look forward to hearing back from you.
This is Jason Mudd with Axia Public Relations. If you valued this episode, please share it with a colleague. Let them hear what you got to hear. Share your feedback with me. It's my pleasure to help you stay on top of PR.
- [Announcer] This has been On Top of PR with Jason Mudd, presented by ReviewMaxer. Be sure to subscribe so you don't miss an episode, and check out past shows at OnTopOfPR.com.
- On Top of PR is produced by Axia Public Relations, named by Forbes as one of America’s Best PR Agencies. Axia is an expert PR firm for national brands.
- On Top of PR is sponsored by ReviewMaxer, the platform for monitoring, improving, and promoting online customer reviews.
About your host Jason Mudd
On Top of PR host, Jason Mudd, is a trusted adviser and dynamic strategist for some of America’s most admired brands and fastest-growing companies. Since 1994, he’s worked with American Airlines, Budweiser, Dave & Buster’s, H&R Block, Hilton, HP, Miller Lite, New York Life, Pizza Hut, Southern Comfort, and Verizon. He founded Axia Public Relations in July 2002. Forbes named Axia as one of America’s Best PR Agencies.
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