To Demonstrate PR’s Value, Show Your ART

May 1, 2019


A national media placement, or one that strikes the right tone in the right market. An inconvenient or ill-timed press inquiry deftly handled. A great conversation over coffee that leads to a genuine relationship with an influential reporter. A photo and caption of a ribbon-cutting that appears in a local weekly. An organizationwide memo that makes every employee feel heard and seen.

In public relations, these are moments of art — individual skills and perspectives intersecting with organizational and societal circumstances to open windows through which great, meaningful work can emerge. The PR professional is, above all else, a relationship artist.

Outstanding PR work is happening in huge departments at global corporations and in one-person shops at local nonprofits. We can all be artists relative to our purposes, goals, expectations and circumstances.

The practice of public relations defies the clinical assessments expressed in numbers, charts and graphs. In media relations, you don’t win or lose quarter over quarter. You don’t have a bottom line by which to measure your stakeholder engagement or social media savvy. There’s no graph to track the trust you’ve earned among your organization’s senior leadership, and no slide rule to gauge your credibility with the media.

Contemporary norms demand that our work be outlined, tracked and measured, but that approach to public relations will become less relevant over time, not more. Yes, we must have goals and track progress, and know whether we’ve succeeded. But I believe we’re entering an age in which the greatest PR work will be known for its artistry, not its measurability. To show the value of what we do, we must display our art.

Finding Your PR artist

Maybe your PR art is tightrope walking. When wind buffets your path, you maintain your balance by adjusting the tiniest muscles and ligaments in your feet. Staying steady requires constant focus, grit and attention to detail, but your vision is always one pace ahead of the distractions, and you keep moving forward. Every step is a success of its own, but you know they mean nothing if you don’t make it safely to the other side. You trust your art to get you there.

Or maybe your public relations art is that of composer. You craft the most rhythmic and melodious media pitches, statements, “state-of-the-org” speeches, op-eds, headlines, captions, tweets and hashtags, and your messages always hit the right notes with the right audiences. At your best, you appear simply as a conductor, pulling hidden strings with seemingly little effort, to create results that transcend.

Or maybe you’re what author Seth Godin calls a “sneezer.” Your enthusiasm for ideas is contagious. You believe in your organization and its vision, and you love to talk about it. You are the greatest of advocates — an ambassador — and this is the art that you provide.

The tightrope walker, the composer and even the sneezer are each their own kind of artist, unique and impossible to measure.

Offering S.M.A.R.T. goals

You’ve probably heard these questions: “How many media pitches are we making to our target markets? How many placements did this press release generate?” Or, “What was its advertising-value equivalency?” These are all, of course, the canonic S.M.A.R.T. goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely.

I propose ART goals instead. This is everything you seek in S.M.A.R.T. objectives, minus all those mundane details and reports, plus something far more valuable: you.

Anyone can offer S.M.A.R.T. public relations, but ART means investing yourself in the work to create something that no one but you could. It’s the value you add by bringing your best when it’s needed most.

To achieve ART goals, add yourself to these metrics:

  • Achievable: ART goals can’t be reached without your unique contributions.
  • Relevant: Besides being germane to your organization’s overarching mission, your ART objective must also be relevant to your skills and expertise, your career goals and whatever challenges and opportunities are involved.
  • Timely: Set a time frame — no less than a month, no more than a year — in which you can reasonably expect to see signs of progress toward the goal. But do so in relation to everything else in your life and work.

You can’t quantify your tightrope walking or your work as a composer, and you’ll never get a raise for your sneezing skills, but these traits nonetheless personify who you are as a PR professional. If your goal is achievable, relevant and timely, and it incorporates a sense of self that allows you to give your gifts to the world, then you are an ARTist and have moved beyond the rigidity of mere S.M.A.R.T. goals.

James Leonard

James Leonard is executive director of public relations at the University of California, Merced. He has more than 15 years of experience in journalism and public relations, including nearly 10 years in higher education. Reach him at


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