Book review of Rich Leigh’s Myths of PR

Meaning of true ‘thought leadership’ has been lost by the media industry due to oversharing. News is being created out of news, opinions of developments are rife and so zealous to render the mere idea of revolution just another dull day in the office. Out of the darkness of ‘fictional futuristic PR’, a place where robots could take our jobs but nobody is smart enough to apply the technology yet, emerges a hero.

Rich Leigh, who started his PR agency as a 27-year-old and well-known founder of the website PRexamples.com. His book ‘Myths of PR: All publicity is good publicity and other popular misconceptions’ due to be released on 3rd April 2017 examines popular myths in the industry and uses them as a vehicle for helping start-up owners, practitioners, and students, to improve their practice.

myths of pr book cover

In Rich’s own words, “Myths are damaging. They hold us back and prevent us from looking at and assessing things clearly and intelligently”.

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been lucky enough to have a digital pre-release copy of the book and reading it has been a real pleasure. Unlike other industry books, often tricky to break past academic or theoretical communication models, Rich writes as he speaks – this is not an easy feat. It’s effortless to read through chapters whilst learning and being challenged, almost as if Rich is having a one-on-one conversation with you.

A perusal of the book’s chapters awkwardly reveals the vast number of myths about the PR industry, some of which are not as straight-forward to answer as you may think. Starting from “PR is all spin, smokescreen and lies”, to “the press release is dead”, and ending on a potentially controversial but intelligent analysis on “gender wage gap figures”. One chapter that particularly challenged my way of thinking is “you have to pay to see social media benefits”.

The whole book really is a witty bundle of intelligent analysis brought to life by working world anecdotes. In many ways the launch of the book will breathe life into a quickly aging academic PR library; all of which far too irrelevant and difficult to penetrate by the types of people this book would be perfect for; practitioners, people looking to hire an agency, or students interested in entering the industry.

As Rich covers fairly early on in the book, the reason many myths exist about PR may be because we tend to be background operators. We desperately part with serious amounts of money to be recognised in glitzy industry awards because the reality is most the time practitioners are confined to the shadows. In fact, if you asked somebody on the street to name a PR person then Max Clifford’s name would probably appear, with connotations of unethical practice rife.

This needs to change and ‘Myths of PR’ is probably one of the first modern books on the market that understands all current industry debates, tackles myths with humour and evidence, all in a bid to improve the practice and understanding of its readers. I’m going to be buying at least 100 copies to give to people every time they ask what I do for a living.

‘Myths of PR’ comes out on the 3rd April 2017 and you can pre-order from Amazon here. You can also follow Rich on Twitter @RichLeighPR.

PS. I’m not buying 100 copies… but you should buy one.

The day you stop learning in PR, is the day you should stop practicing

University library

Learning is for life, if you’re not learning at least one new thing each day then it’s time for a change. Part of this means having the confidence to throw yourself into situations, occasionally opting for the ‘agree now, learn how to later’ approach. If you’ve got a drive and passion, an inquisitive mind, and a highly controlled inner ego that only wants to be recognised for high quality work, then these are some of the ingredients needed to succeed in the PR industry.

In reality though, what do any of these things mean? It’s emotive. If you were entering other professions such as law or accountancy, then you would have a logical framework to follow for entering the profession. A particular set of qualifications or work experiences needed, even a form of competency framework that shows you the core skills needed to progress from A to B.

In this respect the PR industry needs to work to identify the core competencies required in a role, the various ways to enter the profession, along with an effort on Continual Professional Development (CPD). To my knowledge the piece of work that gets closest to outlining the capabilities required in PR is Global Alliance’s ‘The Global Capabilities Framework Project’ – although do leave a comment if there is more recent research to read.

Both industry bodies, the PRCA and CIPR, offer CPD programmes and to complicate matters further, various agencies run their own development programmes who have accreditation with either industry body. Given this complicated landscape of qualifications and CPD programmes – how do you make sense of everything?

PRCA Industry vs. Academics Debate

To (eventually) help find an answer to this question, the PRCA ran their first ‘Industry vs. Academics’ debate in London last month. Chaired by Stephen Waddington of Ketchum, the panellists were:

Faith Howe, Director & Partner, Head of Talent Development, UK and Middle East at FleishmanHillard

Chris Owen, Director, M&C Saatchi PR

Dr. Nicky Garsten, PR and Communications Programme Director, Greenwich University

Robert Minton-Taylor, Senior Lecturer, School of Marketing, Public Relations and Communications, Leeds Becket University

A deliberately contentious title to draw in the crowds – It worked. Around 120 people filled the room, a mixture of academics and practitioners, many of who have gained industry recognition and influence for their dedication to the subject. It was a unique opportunity to catch up with old friends and contacts; all united in the belief that the PR industry needs to formalise education and career development.

The event led with the question ‘Is it necessary to have a PR degree?’ and obviously the answer is no… But the panel’s two main focuses were how people enter the profession and dealing with attrition later in a PR career. Particularly how PR education is often guilty of focusing too heavily on theory without giving practice enough attention. For a full write-up of the event visit Marcel’s blog.

The evening was not short of discussion and occasional moments of debate, particularly from some passionate supporters (mostly on Twitter) who saw PR degrees as providing the critical foundation knowledge for entering the profession. Although where higher education can provide a theoretical foundation of knowledge, it was noted many students lack the necessary ‘soft skills’ needed for activities such as holding conversations on the phone.

Even though I invested £20,000+ in a PR degree, it’s clear that there are many ways you can enter into PR. These days you could argue ‘degree required’ entry-level roles actually inadvertently filter for the same old ‘blueprint’ candidates. In this area the fabulous work of the Taylor Bennet Foundation to get Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) graduates into full-time work is critical – the fact this initiative is needed at all is a little embarrassing, why isn’t the industry diverse already?

What’s the answer?

The big question students were asking at the event was ‘Have I wasted my time and money on a PR degree?’ – my answer to that is no! I’ve blogged about that before here, my PR degree has paid off well for me so far and has probably accelerated my career journey in many ways.

There were many answers to the ‘industry vs. academics’ debate:

  1. To improve the quality of people entering the PR industry, there needs to be a better working relationship between practitioners and academics (often there is a blend between the two)
  2. There is a responsibility of managers and HR teams to recognise the importance of accepting a wide range of candidates to PR roles – don’t just get drawn towards the same white middle-class degree laden mould
  3. Despite the innovation brought by digital over the last 11 years, we’re still slow to accept the fact developments in automation (among other things) could have severe consequences to our bottom lines
  4. Given the importance of grounding PR work in theory, in my view there isn’t enough theory being updated to account for how digital has changed everything
  5. There are many ways to enter the PR industry, each way in relies on experience and eventually contacts

Ultimately, the day you stop learning in PR, is the day you should stop practicing.