Arthur W. Page Society

The bottom-line remains PR's bottom-line

Richard Edelman’s address at the IPR’s 50th Annual Distinguished Lecture and Awards Dinner should be required reading for anyone practicing public relations or contemplating a career in the field.

In his remarks, Mr. Edelman said the time has arrived for public relations to take its rightful place as the lead strategy in any organization’s marketing mix. As he opined, “In this age of complexity, public relations can guide business better than any other discipline.” Edelman illustrated his point by reciting a litany of accomplishments by chief communications officers and their PR agency partners, including:

– Working with leaders to catalyze employees
– Co-creating products with customers
– Cooperating with civil society
– Interacting with communities
– Informing regulators and legislators… and
– Re-assuring investors

At the same time, though, Edelman listed the recent Bank of America and Tokyo Electric Power Company image meltdowns as just two examples in which PR was clearly an afterthought. I’m sure he’d have added Penn State University to that list as well.

Edelman said PR MUST operate at the same level in the C-suite as:

– the general counsel
– the operations manager
– the chief marketing officer and
– the director of corporate strategy.

My one issue with Edelman’s call to action is the obvious one: until and unless PR practitioners demonstrate a fundamental competence in finance and economics, we’ll always be seen as an afterthought by those CEOs who rose through the ranks as salesmen, engineers, managers or lawyers.

And, while Edelman does call for college and university PR programs to begin adding required courses in economics, engineering and statistics, that will take years, if not decades, to produce any real effect.

What the PR industry needs NOW is a finance and economic boot camp for practitioners up to, and including, CCOs and agency leaders.

Until we can convince a CEO we understand the profound difference a penny rise or decline in stock price has on a publicly-traded organization, PR leaders such as Edelman will continue to deliver keynote addresses arguing why we deserve a seat at the table.

In my opinion, the bottom line remains the bottom line in PR’s ongoing struggle to earn respect.

Steve Cody
Managing Partner,

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