Every time we interview a candidate for a spot on the Kent State faculty, I ask this question: Who’s your hero in public relations? When I was asked in 1991, I told the search committee I was a Jacksonian – Pat, not Andrew. They nodded, happy to know we worshiped the same PR prophet.
That was 16 years ago, when few of PR’s “lecturing practitioners” approached Pat’s brilliance. Certainly none matched his stature. But things have changed. Pat died in 2001. And around that same time, the PR world began tinkering in the blogosphere.
Some new “heroes” emerged, as I learned in our last faculty search, in 2005. I asked the hero question then, and I got some very different answers.
One candidate said her hero was Steve Rubel, of Micropersuasion fame. Another mentioned Richard Edelman, CEO of the international PR firm and another popular blogger. Neither of these candidates had ever met their “heroes,” nor had they heard them speak. Their only contact was in blogosphere.
It was one of those “aha” moments for me. I knew the bloggers had grown their audiences. But clearly they’d grown their influence as well. I should mention, the folks interviewing for this job were veteran PR professionals, not career academics.
Lets consider the difference between today’s heroes and yesterday’s. Pat Jackson spent over 40 years building a reputation as PR practitioner and PR intellectual. He did it with hundreds — no, it had to be thousands of presentations around the country and the world. Pat reinforced his message with his weekly newsletter, prreporter, which packed more wisdom in six pages than most books on the topic.
Rubel, the top-dog blogger in our business today, was toiling in relative obscurity at Cooper Katz until a few years ago. Then he ventured into blogging. Today, he’s one of the most recogized PR pros in the world.
In the 80s and 90s, I maybe saw Pat Jackson speak once a year, and got a weekly dose through prreporter. I hear from Steve through his posts 4-5 times a day.
Edelman’s blog tackles more of the macro issues of the biz, an approach not unlike Jackson’s, but with a lot fewer face-to-face presentations. But I didn’t really understand how smart Edelman was until he up and hired Rubel. Now that’s vision!
I don’t expect either of these guys would be comfortable with the “hero” label, but clearly they’ve used this wonderful social medium to place themselves among the top influencers in our business. I doubt either one of them started blogging with that in mind. But it’s a nice side benefit if you have the stamina to keep on posting.
So, while the mission of public relations hasn’t changed all that much since Web 2, the people who influence it clearly have. For some, they represent a new set of heroes, amplified by the power of the blogosphere.
Oh, yeah. I do have one more hero whose signed photo hangs in my Taylor Hall office. It so happens he’s a Kent State alum, and it so happens he’s the baddest, meanest, gnarliest middle linebacker to ever play the game. Jack Lambert wasn’t much good at public relations, but I miss him almost as much as I do Pat Jackson. Ah, the end of an era. Go Steelers!