Why Do PR Pros ...


Speechless 07-15For a profession that advocates the power of taking a stand, there are precious few PR executives who take their own  advice.

Several factors conspire to keep PR executives on a vanilla message.

At the risk of generalizing, I think it’s fair to say that most PR people enjoy working in the background. Like a baseball umpire, when we do our job well, no one notices us. We like it this way. So perhaps there’s something in our DNA that doesn’t want the attention that comes from articulating a fresh point of view.

The profession also attracts “pleasers.” We want to please our clients. We want to please journalists, our colleagues and the hipster with the half sleeve tattoo making our morning pour over. By the way, I put myself in the pleaser category.

As a result, we avoid the opposite of pleasing — pissing people off (alliteration rationalizes use of the “p” word).

Because a strong opinion will inevitably upset people who don’t share the same viewpoint.

Donald Trump serves an Exhibit A of this dynamic even as an exaggerated form.
Donald Trump - Fascist 07-15The point is, the stronger the opinion, the more likely it causes a polarizing response. Yet, softening that opinion quickly changes it into the equivalent of white noise with zero value.

It’s called thought leadership, not thought followership.

Which moves us into the area of biting the hand that feeds us. God forbid if an opinion upsets potential clients — or worse — current clients. Here, the thinking goes that taking a stand is actually bad for business, that executives will shy away from agencies who express opinions counter to their own.

The same goes for journalists. We don’t criticize journalists for fear of repercussions; i.e., they won’t write about our clients.

I don’t buy into this. In a media environment where thought leadership is the only way to drive consistent media attention — unless you’re a consumer mega brand — PR counsels clients today to express opinions with the benefits far outweighing the negatives. Why should the equation suddenly go south when applied to the communications industry?

It shouldn’t. It doesn’t.

Furthermore, the rise of social media with a megaphone on every desk puts all of us on the same playing field. How this impacts society is above my pay grade. What I can say is PR is no longer relegated to the subservient ghetto. Thanks to social media, we’ve now got a path to peer-to-peer expression.

Rewinding the tape to 2010, you can see a perfect example of this when Adam Singer, who at the time worked for a digital marketing firm, wrote the post, “The Truth About Mashable.” He chastised the publication for resembling a content farm, writing, “They churn out content for the sake of churning out content.” Next, he served up the proof points that supported the premise.

It took guts to write this story, but what happened next was even more remarkable. Pete Cashmore, founder of Mashable, responded with a posted comment:PeteCashmore to Adam 07-15That’s when it hit me.

If we express an opinion with the requisite rationale, our audiences will listen.

I’ve previously mentioned the Korean phrase 모단돌이 정맞는다 which loosely translated means, “the nail that stands out get hammered.”

We can’t be afraid of getting hammered.

It’s time PR takes the same advice we give our clients on what makes for effective thought leadership.


  • Chris Parente

    Substitute content marketing for PR and I couldn’t agree more, Lou. It’s our job to push the client out of the vanilla and say something interesting. Good rule of thumb — if no one will disagree, then you’re not really saying anything worth publishing.

    When the client does say something interesting and avoids being promotional, often the story will be run by the trades without a single edit. It’s a relatively new, hybrid type of story, mix of earned and owned.

    • Lou Hoffman

      That’s a great litmus test: “If no one will disagree, then you’re not really saying anything worth publishing.” Just seems ironic that the profession guiding others to say something fresh struggles to apply the concept to itself.

  • Frank Strong

    As a person with strong views that expresses them far too often, I think the trick is to pick and choose when to voice that strong opinion. Without a strong view, you tend to lose. With a strong view too often, you also tend to lose. (And that’s why Trump will be a flash in the long run).

    • Lou Hoffman

      I think there’s a difference between expressing strong views often and over exposure. I expect to read your takes on your blog even if you published every day of the week. But if you always seem to be in my face via the media, then fatigue sets in. On the topic of Trump, I watched Anderson Cooper devote a show to Mr. Trump yesterday while on the tread mill. The experts believe he’ll have staying power (unlike Perot) which I think says more about he tenor of American than Trump.

  • Keeping Quiet? Aiming to Please in the PR Profession – Smash Rhetoric

    […] Hoffman, L. (2015) Why do PR pros choose not to speak out? Ishmael’s Corner. Retrieved from https://www.ishmaelscorner.com/pr-professionals-choose-not-to-speak-out/ […]


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