Public Relations Career Advice: In the best cases, the job chooses you

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I am starting this post with a disclaimer – I haven’t yet watched Kim Kardashian’s documentary, SPINdustry, but am about to make a few base observations that stem from the title alone (a rose by any other name would definitely smell sweeter …). And the fact that many articles are leading with: want to know what the world of public relations is really like? … Nonetheless, I haven’t seen it, and it may well be brilliant. So my post is really more about the concept that the title suggests than the actual content … read on …

You see, based on the snide commentary about the show I’ve picked up on Twitter and Amplify and Facebook, it’s my hunch that SPINdustry annoys real PR pros much the same way L.A. Law irritated legal eagles back in the late 80s. And I have a theory about the reason that’s so: We don’t necessarily want our profession glammed up at the expense of raging misperceptions being broadcast about what it is that we really do … (and in PR’s case, many people already seem pretty much mystified by our particular blend of voodoo magic …) So no slight to the show, but it provides a brilliant launchpad into a topic that’s been on my mind lately; the notion of what makes a person decide to get into the PR “business.” More and more, the answer to that question informs how they practice PR, and how our profession will evolve in the future.

Shows like SPINdustry “matter” because they become a tactic that could lead a person to opt into the field, and for all the wrong reasons.

Those who work alongside me every day have often heard me say: PR pros, real PR pros hate the word SPIN. Because we never, ever do it. I usually go on to rant that if the formative application of comms theory to the quagmire of relationships found in any organization at any given moment (and a certain ability to guide the outcome) means we are “spinning”, then – okay, guilty. But if, as it usually does, spin means distortion of the facts to warp a situation to meet a predetermined outcome … that’s just not what genuine PR pros are about. Shows like SPINdustry and others that position PR as some high-powered, glam, fast paced, no-holds barred manipulation fest are absolutely detrimental to our profession. Not only are such representations false, but they spook potential clients, further alienate jaded journalists, and attract future pros into the field who may be (probably will be) motivated by seriously damaging ideas about how PR “should be.”

Yup. I know it’s not haute to draw a bright line about right and wrong – but there it is. When PR is presented in this Jerry-Maguire sort of “show me the money” light or as a career path loaded with insensitive ladder climbers gleefully engaging machiavellian techniques to blast their way to the top (and being successful with this style), the real heart of PR suffers.

With the incredible gift we have via social networks and media, today’s PR professional has the opportunity to truly learn from and glean from top-shelf pros in our field, And the one message that is reinforced again and again is that the heart of excellent public relations is found in real, true relationship activity. Genuine communication, realistic engagement, long term work – that’s what defines true PR. And that probably wouldn’t make for a terribly interesting half-hour documentary, but it would be more accurate.

The more thought leaders I encounter, and the more deeply I live and breathe this profession each and every day, the more I am convinced that in most cases when the fit is right – the job found us, we didn’t pursue the job.

We innately appreciate and “get” what it means to relate. We are at ease in the C-suite, the boardroom, in front of a room of shareholders, or conversing with mommy bloggers because we sort through the pretension to focus on the “other” person(s) (not target market, or audience, or segment) with whom we are striving to grow and nurture a relationship that will lead to meaningful change. For us it’s not about the adrenaline rush that comes from having to produce a celeb event in 48 hours (though yes, many of us confess to a sort of sick delight in a type-A, high-energy circumstance), it’s about real results that are grounded in meaningful, relevant strategic relationships.

That’s what goodPR does. And sure we all go about that pursuit with various styles. I’m not implying some kind of Pollyanna effect – but if you love what you do, if you are truly a professional at your art/craft/skill – that means you have a certain vested interest in developing the field, and not just your own personal brand. And that’s why this topic matters to me.

Will SPINdustry convince some high school sophomore out there to jump headlong into the PR field? You bet. And when she gets here, let’s do our part to make sure we snatch her off the tilt-a-whirl false reality of what PR is like on T.V. Let’s make sure she’s game to stop the spin, and love the job.


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