I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I haven’t attended a PRSA national conference in 5 years. Given the info available online, I’ve found more efficient ways to keep up on the business.
My last PRSA conference was in Atlanta in those dark days after 9/11. If the terrorist attacks weren’t enough to cast a pall over the meeting, something else was missing. The 2001 conference was the first one in recent memory to not feature the wisdom of Pat Jackson. Pat died March 22, 2001. So the conferences — at least for me — can never be the same.
In other years, I recall showing up 45 minutes early to Pat’s sessions just to ensure a front-row seat. His programs were always SRO. Pat packaged great content with the zeal of a tent-revival preacher, though I suspect he might cringe at the analogy. Most of us sat spellbound while the one-hour program passed in what seemed like minutes. We called it our “Jackson fix.”
As an educator in public relations, I think about Pat every day. His name crops up in class lectures at least twice a week, only natural given his contributions to the profession and the body of knowledge. I still use his case book at Kent State. And I worry — now that Pat and coauthor Allen Center are both gone — if it will continue to be published.
I also miss prreporter, the brilliant newsletter that for 25 years Pat managed to edit and write every week, no matter how busy his schedule or where his travels took him. I’m proud to have published two articles prreporter‘s “tips & tactics” supplement.
What made Pat Jackson so special for me was his uncanny ability to take the complex research being done by PR academics — and the social science theory it was based on — and show us how to use it in day-to-day practice. He was the one who showed me the power of theory, which in part is what led me away from the practice, into grad school and eventually into the college classroom.
What Pat taught us back in the 1980s is now the reigning paradigm. But back then, Pat was often a lone voice in a PR wilderness hopelessly stuck in a one-way, persuasive model. Today we all get it, or at least most of us.
The main lessons I learned from Pat Jackson?
Research is never optional. We all know this today, but in the 70s and early 80s, most PR campaigns were launched with little or no research. It was seat-of-the-pants communication that sometimes worked, sometimes not. We often didn’t know, because we didn’t bother to measure outcomes, either.
Behavior change is what matters. PR campaigns can have many objectives, beginning with awareness. But the CEOs who pay our fees are interested in behavioral outcomes. Pat’s behavioral model of public relations, characterized by the “triggering event,” has since taken its place among the major PR theories.
PR is about relationships, and relationships require give-and-take. “People want to served, not sold,” Pat would admonish us. They don’t want to be persuaded, they want to be heard. Remember, he’d say: “Business is NOT about making money, it’s about building relationships. Money is just how we keep score.”
Face-to-face communication is how we build trust and credibility. It’s the only sure-fired way to build and maintain those all-important relationships.
Involvement = Ownership. This was really the essence of Pat’s practice philosophy and his public relations ethic. He believed fundamentally that people are entitled to a voice in the decisions that affect their lives. He pushed his clients, and all of us, to embrace openness and transparency.
Authors have written books about PR luminaries Arthur Page and Ed Bernays. Someone should write a book about Pat, too. Maybe I should. Because Pat’s contributions are just as important to this field as Page and Bernays. I’m certain history will prove me correct on that.
The world is a poorer place without Pat Jackson. But we can still celebrate his genius.