TODAY’S AD EXECS THINK LIKE DON DRAPER ABOUT PR (by Patrick Slevin)

SL7 Communications
Don Draper Mad Men

In today’s fractured and explosive media age, public relations has surpassed advertising as the integrated communications and strategic counselor to clients, and Mad Men’s Don Draper doesn’t like it.

Draper may be a fictional protagonist, but his character’s dismissive treatment of PR exposes stereotypes and biases that the advertising industry still struggles with today. This attitude is detrimental to clients and employers alike.

In Mad Men‘s episode entitled “Public Relations,” Draper demonstrates his contempt for PR, which creates some great tension in the drama. He bullies his employees, fires a client, and antagonizes an one-legged reporter.

Don Draper 2

The reporter attempts to interview the mysterious Don Draper, the partner and creative director of the newly launched ad agency Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce.  The scene hits its climax when the reporter zeros in and asks the star of Madison Avenue, “Who is Don Draper?”

The question sets Draper off, and he dismissively retorts, “I’m from the Midwest, where’s it’s not polite to talk about oneself.” The reporter then ends the interview. When the less-than-flattering article comes out, Draper’s partners scold him for failing to promote their startup agency. The story results in the loss of a key client who was offended for not being mentioned with other clients in the article.

Draper’s lack of respect for PR came back to haunt him.

This scene subtly, but loudly reveals the tension existing between advertising and PR. Draper accuses the reporter of not doing his job and that his creative work should sell itself, but Draper knows he blew it.

The creative work would be Draper’s ads, which are great and quickly get your attention. But in real life, advertising mostly falls short of impacting corporate reputation, image, and loyalty. These are the areas that have the most influence on bottom-line interests, which is why PR is seated more prominently today at the table.

For example, if a company wants to attract multicultural consumers, who are unaware of the brand, the company must take a holistic communications approach that has advertising, as well as digital, social media, and grassroots, but with an overarching PR strategy.

Don Draper 3

The corporate credibility, citizenship, and narrative must be presented in an integrated campaign leveraging the strengths of numerous communications disciplines. PR is the only form of communications that can see the big picture and translate and deliver it to a coalition of stakeholders.

It’s sad to see Draper falling behind the times and losing his edge in the emerging world of integrated strategic communications. He may be fictional, but Draper’s attitude and shortsightedness of PR accurately reflects the thinking of too many advertising executives.

The next time I talk to an advertising executive saying he offers PR as part of his core services, I’m just going to politely state, “Dick Whitman may be able to mask around as Don Draper, but advertising cannot disguise its contempt for PR.”

This Slevin article was originally published in PRWeek in 2012.

About Patrick Slevin

Patrick Slevin is a motivational and communications professional leading his firm, SL7 Communications. Patrick is a former mayor, Fortune 500 manager, national trade association director and international agency executive. As a “special projects consultant”, Patrick identifies, designs, and implements innovative solutions for his clients.

For the last 12 years, corporate leaders from around the country have retained Patrick for his strategic counsel, campaign leadership and organizational solutions.

For more information go to www.PatrickSlevin.com.

Or contact Patrick directly to schedule an exploratory, confidential call at 850.597.0423 or pslevin68@gmail.com.

 

The Tao of PR: The Eye of the Beholder

Eye 2

Public relations is both an art and science, but somewhere between these two worlds resides a mystery dating back to before humankind began using words to communicate. The Tao, which loosely means the way or path, can help us understand how this mystery impacts our society.

The mystery begins with the apparent contradictions presented in the field of PR. Successful PR is transparent, but never seen. PR cradles credibility, but it never leaves fingerprints. PR delivers persuasive messages, but never subjugates the conversation.

We experience this mysterious force on a daily basis. It’s so obvious that we rarely recognize it, but it becomes evident when I’m asked by my friends, family, and colleagues: “What is public relations?”

 

I’ve learned over time that instead of trying to explain PR, I counter by asking “what do they think PR means?” The answers are predictably as different as the people, and they begin to reveal the Tao that is public relations:

• “PR is spinning a story.”
• “It’s getting publicity and writing press releases.”
• “You write up messages and try to get them in the media.”
• “It’s the business of turning perceptions into reality.”
• “You get peoples’ attention.”
• “It’s establishing relationships.”

The answers are neither completely wrong nor fully accurate. I believe the diversity of answers reflects a greater answer that truly begins to define the “Tao of PR.”

The Tao also has numerous definitions, but it’s mostly considered “eternally nameless.” As described in the sixth century B.C. book Tao Te Ching, written by Lao Tzu, the father of Taoism, to name the Tao is to not know the name:

“The Tao that can be told
is not the universal Tao.
The name that can be named
is not the universal name.”

A successful PR campaign tells a story that stakeholders don’t recognize as public relations. If it’s recognized, then the narrative is rejected and considered contrived.

A PR campaign tells a story that has a message that’s not defined by the PR professional, but rather by the audience. When stakeholders internalize the message and allow it to influence their opinions, attitudes, and action, then that’s the Tao of PR.

The relevance and success of PR is determined by the eye of the beholder. Therefore, the mystery that resides between the art and science of PR relations is simply, but profoundly, humanity itself.

This explains why it’s difficult to give one definition of public relations that can be universally accepted. As a species, we believe PR is part of our human condition and continued survival as a society. This goes all the way back to telling fireside stories, so it’s intrinsic, which is why PR has many meanings, but is eternally nameless.

As PR practitioners, it’s our responsibility to further the public dialogue. It’s our charge to educate and inform audiences and allow them the opportunity to reject or accept our messages, impressions, and meanings, which is the way of public relations.

The Tao of PR was first published in PRWeek on April 23, 2012 when I was a featured “Insider Blogger”.

About Patrick Slevin

My PR career started when I was elected the youngest GOP mayor in the nation in 1996. Six months after my election, I was appointed spokesman and surrogate for the GOP presidential nominee U.S. Sen. Bob Dole. Since 1996, I’ve educated opinion leaders and engaged stakeholders as Florida mayor, Fortune 500 corporate PR manager, national trade association communications director, international agency executive, corporate trainer and public speaker.

For the last 12 years, corporate leaders from around the country have retained me for my strategic counsel, campaign leadership and organizational solutions.

Go to www.PatrickSlevin.com for more information.

Public Relations Trumps Lobbying: Study Reveals PR Paradigm

Government relations professionals refusing to acknowledge and leverage public relations as part of influencing public policy are falling behind the times.  A new study by The Center of Public Integrity found that some of the nation’s largest trade associations spent nearly twice as much on public relations than lobbying.

According to the study, of $3.4 billion in contracts reported by the 144 trade groups from 2008 through 2012, more than $1.2 billion, or 37 percent, went toward advertising, public relations and marketing services, more than any other category. The second-highest total, $682.2 million, or 20 percent of the total, was directed toward legal, lobbying and government affairs.

Public relations is more than just creating a persuasive storyline. If done correctly, PR educates the public, which creates credibility.  It humanizes the legal jargon that goes into statutes.

The study singles out American Petroleum Institute. It stated, “The oil and gas industry trade group spent more than $7 million lobbying federal officials in 2012. But that sum was dwarfed by the $85.5 million it paid to four public relations and advertising firms to, in effect, lobby the American public — including $51.9 million just to global PR giant Edelman.”

“From 2008 through 2012, annual tax filings show, the API paid Edelman a staggering $327.4 million for advertising and public relations services, more than any other contractor.” (source PRnewser)

What happens in DC, typically follows in the state capitols.  Every year, more contract lobbyists, state trade associations, corporations and special interests retain public relations firms to elevate their narratives.  Strategic communications and messaging target a coalition of stakeholders ranging from the news media to thought leaders to activists to public officials.

Some would argue it’s a black eye on American Democracy, while others argue it’s educating the public on the merits of issues that impact their daily lives.

I’m the first to admit that PR is used to persuade minds and influence public policy.  That’s a given.  However, I disagree with the study’s premise that it’s about manufacturing misinformation.  In today’s Digital Age, people are media savvy, so if PR looks like spin, smells like spin, and feels like spin (a.k.a. Astroturf), then it often backfires and becomes a liability.

I would counter that it’s not how much PR is being used to influence public policy, but rather, the absence of public relations.  When there’s no PR, that’s when the red flags should go up and the public made aware.

About Patrick Slevin

Patrick Slevin heads SL7 Consulting.  Go to www.PatrickSlevin.com for more information.