Changing the Current PR Mindset: A New Column on the Constant PR Evolution

January 1, 2015

[merve karahan/getty]
[merve karahan/getty]

Editor’s note: We’re sad to report that Mike Herman, a beloved PRSA member, a visionary professional and the author of this column, died unexpectedly on Jan. 3. He was 67. For more information, here is PRSA's tribute to Herman.

Conventional wisdom has it that public relations sprang forth, more or less, from the minds of Ivy Lee and Edward Bernays and a few others in the early part of the 20th century. This was a time when psychology, sociology and information techniques were applied to the needs of business, industry and government here in America.

I believe that our profession is much older and has evolved over a much longer time, with an occasional revolution either in thought, society or technology.

From a story in the Old Testament of how Aaron became the spokesman for Moses, followed by the bell-ringing town criers who spread the news, there have been mini revolutions that have caused evolutionary leap-frogging. These have all led to our current involvement in yet another revolution.

An examination of historical royal courts and other government entities has testified to the existence of advisers who provided counsel on the thoughts and opinions of the public and its likely actions or reactions to those in power.

These early counselors and communicators had one thing in their favor: almost complete control over both the meaning and the medium used to deliver those messages. Audiences shared something in common as well: a lack of education, an ability to read, and an innate willingness to accept and follow the dictates of those in power.

The evolution of education, combined with the technological revolution of movable type, the printing press and, more recently, electronic, digital and mobile communication, created a more questioning populace that was, and is, increasingly less willing to accept inaccurate or untruthful messages. In fact, a good percentage fancy themselves message creators and disseminators.

Today’s 24/7 media world demands that PR counselors and communications professionals add to their knowledge base and learn to use and create new tools, techniques, methods and means. They must lead, not just communicate.

The pulse of the profession

This column will attempt to take the pulse of our profession and encourage feedback from those who specialize in all sectors — from corporate, agency, military, government and not-for-profit, to entertainment and media. 

Tom Hoog, Fellow PRSA, vice chair of training and new business at Hill+Knowlton Strategies and a recipient of PRSA’s Gold Anvil, puts it perfectly:

“We have to change our current mindset. Stop being so tactically oriented and blinded by technology, and the format and delivery methods of messages,” he said. “To continue to grow and be relevant, our profession must be seen as problem identifiers and problem solvers. We must be valued as knowledgeable strategists and managers of change — as change agents. Otherwise, the changing times will relegate us to the pages of history.”

The fact is that what we do is changing and evolving — again. Changing times will continue to shape the way we engage with our stakeholders and how we manage what we do, how we do it and, in some instances, why we do it. That’s why we’re calling this new column “Changing Times.”

Michael L. Herman, APR, Fellow PRSA
Michael L. Herman, APR, Fellow PRSA, is the CEO of Communication Sciences International, with more than 40 years' of experience in corporate, nonprofit, agency, governmental communication and change management. He is a recipient of the PRSA Gold Anvil for lifetime career achievement and is an adjunct professor at Illinois State University. Email: Twitter: @mlherman.


Gerry Corbett, APR, Fellow PRSA says:

Well said Michael!!! Our industry has been in existence from time immemorial. Thank you for your service. May you rest in eternal peace.

Jan. 6, 2015

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