(This post originally appeared on my other blog, Don’t Believe the Hyphen)
I never intended to do PR for a living. All I ever wanted was to be a writer. As a journalist throughout my 20s I felt like Robert Peston does that PRs were the enemy. Purveyors of bullshit.
I was an idealistic magazine staffer with delusions of being the next Lester Bangs, beset hour upon hour by insincerely matey calls and superlative-spattered press releases from PR agencies trying to ‘sell in’ their products and secure a favourable review.
To switch to PR was, as the cliche goes, to go over to the dark side. And the darkness has its allure. Many like me have made that Damascean road-trip in reverse.
How many PR people have I known turn back towards the former ‘light’ and a media job? Not one. Of course, the reality is that the number of media jobs is dwindling and freelancing pays less than it ever did.
But, to the point. When we get there, what do we find? That we, the fallen, are the real truth-tellers and they, the hacks, are the enemy.
Of course, I don’t really think this and the whole thing is completely subjective.
Most media and PR professionals are just that, professionals, with integrity and principles performing a valid and important – sometimes vital – service. Both, equally, can be evil – often, as with most evil, without knowing it. But neither are intrinsically bad.
Society needs a free and diverse media to expose wrong and hold power to account. Now, more than ever. Organisations need communications specialists. Now more than, ever.
Media people don’t need comms people, though they rely on us more than they care to admit. Comms people need the media – more than we care to admit (think about it).
Who is the media? These days, anyone. Someone with a phone, a blog, a Twitter account.
Should we be the media? No. We’re too biased.
But we can and should do media. As much as possible. We should try to connect direct, doing so openly, honestly and ethically. I hope there will always be someone there to hold us to account. When there isn’t, then we’re dead. Then we’re Nineteen Eighty Four.
When I ventured into comms six years ago it was by, if not accident, then circumstance more than design. My fiancee and I had decided to relocate from London back to shire. I looked round for media jobs and found only meagrely paid subbing gigs. I didn’t have a news background or NCTJ certificate, so the local rags were unlikely to hire me as their next star reporter.
But then there was the public sector. There were hiring communications people and I knew I could communicate fairly well. I’d spent my career conveying ideas and information to people in the clearest and most engaging way I could.
In truth, I was tired of working for commercial organisations, dealing with consumer products. I was attracted to the public, charity and voluntary sectors as places I could use my transferable skills as a communicator to connect with real people about real issues that affect them every day, and in some way try to help them and – you know – make a difference. Man.
And that’s where I still stand. I remain an idealist and hope I always will be. As communications people, we can do good. But we are not God. We don’t have all the answers. We sometimes get it wrong. What we can do is use our skills, our nouse, our finely tuned (but sometimes faulty) antennae, our craft and curiosity to guide, steer, advise, tease, challenge, argue and cajole those who employ us into making genuine, honest and meaningful connections with the people they are there to serve.
Despite six years of austerity, cuts, reviews, restructures and that all-enveloping ‘change’, somehow I feel more excited and less afraid than ever about the job I’m paid to do.
Things like going to Commscamp and listening people that do what I do, but better, on Twitter and on blogs have helped me see that.
We’ve been stuck in a bit of a rut, obsessed with traditional media-PR binary relationships, heads down, churning it out and not peering above the parapet.
But now I feel we’re catching up, moving forwards and changing as the new reality forces us to change. It’s hard to keep up and we don’t think we have the time to do ALL THIS OTHER STUFF the job now entails but we’re trying and we will get there. We might need to stop doing some of the old stuff first.
Things will never be the same again.
As Ferris Bueller said, ‘Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.’ And he didn’t have Twitter.
So let’s keep looking around.