There’s been some heated discussion lately about licensing of public relations people.
I first heard of it a week ago, in a story about the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) making a push to have PR pros be licensed. (Will we have to be leashed and get rabies shots, too?)
The story also quoted a Prof. Toni Muzi Falconi, former head of the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communications Management, who said that the work we do influences people’s thinking and behavior and, thus, should be controlled by having us PR folks licensed or certified.
The chairman of PRSA in the U.S. says if the profession doesn’t police itself, the government will, which I took as a scare tactic to support PRSA’s push for certification.
I wrote a post on my blog last week, opposing the idea and explaining that the quality and ethics of public relations people won’t be impacted much by certification. Instead, I said, the work of PR people could be improved by focusing on three things:
1) Education. Public relations should be a serious part of marketing courses in college. Many courses and textbooks gloss over PR with a chapter at best. Teaching future marketers a proper understanding of public relations and what it can — and can’t — do would be good for everyone in marketing. Actually, PR should be included in every general business curriculum, since CEOs come up from a variety of discliplines.
2) Training. Writing is a basic skill for public relations. A decent PR person should be able to write a news release, a pitch letter, client reports, etc. Much of what passes for news release copy today — especially in product PR — reads more like ad or brochure copy. It makes the job of the journalists we target more difficult and frustrating, and it causes many of them to ignore us or look at us with disdain. Good writing is essential for employee newsletters, presentations and executive speeches.
Training should also include how to pitch a story — who to target, how and when to approach a reporter (or blogger), how not to exaggerate or lie, how to understand the word “no.” Also, learning how media work and what they are looking for.
At too many agencies, especially many of the mid-size and larger ones, the extent of training seems to be… pressure. Sell that story at any cost. Badger reporters until they use your material (or hang up on you.) And hype, hype. Your new gadget is the best, the biggest, the fanciest… Unfortunately, that is the training too many young people get at agencies today
3 Courtesy and Ethics. You need licensing for that? Don’t people learn those things growing up?
The post sat there quietly for a few days, with little reaction. Then the floodgates opened and comments started coming in from p.r. practicioners and academics from around the globe, but little from the U.S.
Prof. Falconi, whose recommendation I had questioned, was first to weigh in and further explain why he feels regulation is needed. The good Professor, who spent many years doing PR in Italy, currently teaches in the graduate B-school at NYU, about 2 miles down Fifth Avenue from me.
I then heard from a current staffer at the Global Alliance, writing from Portugal. Frankly, I had never heard of the group, nor had several of my colleagues that I asked here in New York. But we can be insular, I’ll admit. Joao Duarte included background on the group and tried to make a case for credentials and why his group could be the one to handle it.
Then I heard from a honcho at the International Association of Business Communicators, a group I recall from having been a member many years back. Ned Lundquist, vice chair of the Accreditation Council at IABC, talked about his organization’s certification process, and also got into the semantics of whether we should call ourselves public relations practitioners or communicators.
We also had several good comments from Heather Yaxley, a PR pro in England who blogs as greenbanana, with some good thoughts on ethics and responsibility. And Benita Steyn, who teaches p.r. in South Africa, and Judy Gombita, a p.r. pro in Canada who contributes to PR Conversations online, have added a lot to the discussion.
But I haven’t heard from many U.S. p.r. and marketing people on the subject, and I’m wondering how you feel about licensing.
I’m not sure I see any benefit from it, and it could be more of a burden than it’s worth. And who’s to say once they start licensing p.r. people, that they won’t go after ad execs, marketing folks and journalists. Might we all have Big Brother watching over our shoulders?
So, if you have the time, click over to the original post and scroll through the discussion. Then come back here and have your say.