First, a confession. I paid my PRSA dues for 2008 after saying, and pretty vehemently, that I would not. I sent the check to New York yesterday for three reasons. First, I wanted to show support for a friend and colleague who is president of the local chapter this year. Second, I’m feeling guilty about abandoning my friends in both the Cleveland and Akron Area chapters, despite seeing little value in the national affiliation.
Finally, I was hoping this year’s PRSA leadership would bring new spark to a tired organization that’s been my professional home for 25 years. I ‘d be a great Cubs fan, wouldn’t I?
Does PRSA have a new vision? If so, you won’t find it in the society’s first news release of 2008, a release that announces Jeff Julin’s ascension to the chairmanship — but not much more.
Is there news here? Not really. Jeff’s selection as PRSA chair was rubber stamped by the Assembly back in November. But hey, it is his first day in office, and it’s Friday of a holiday week. Maybe we can steal a headline on a slow news day and make a little splash.
Nice try, but the news release typifies what Tom Foremski ranted about back in ’06 when he called on PR folks to stop using the tool altogether.
Some highlights from PRSA’s first release of 2008:
Julin brings to PRSA 30 years of public relations experience, with special expertise in stakeholder engagement and issues management.
I’m sure Jeff is an accomplished professional or he’d not have been anointed head of the PRSA family. But if we hope to communicate PR’s value to the rest of the world, we won’t do it with jargon like “stakeholder engagement” and “issues management.” To get your message across, use words Mom and Dad will understand.
As chair and CEO of PRSA, Julin will continue to advance PRSA’s role in creating a broad understanding of the vital role public relations plays in a rapidly changing world. People at all levels are more engaged than ever before in driving business, government and communities.
I’m looking for substance in this paragraph but finding none. It’s nice to know that Jeff plans to continue whatever it is PRSA has been doing. But that isn’t news, it’s fluff. And that second sentence is interpretation, not verifiable fact. Where’s the attribution?
“Implementation of the plan will maximize member value by enhancing our real and virtual communities, more aggressively profiling best practices and public relations research, and leveraging our leadership position in public relations ethics,” said Julin. He continued, “Going forward, I want to build on our great successes of the last few years and maximize PRSA’s strengths to become the touchstone of learning, guidance and recognition for every member of the profession.”
Ever heard of “Bullshit Bingo”? You could fill half a card with that paragraph alone. I nearly broke and ankle tripping over the buzz words. Sheesh.
An expert in issues management and stakeholder engagement, Julin is known for his ability to effectively work with groups that have conflicting interests. With roots in Colorado’s mining communities, Julin developed a natural affinity for engaging all interests in respectful, productive communications.
I know Jeff is a professional, but you can’t tell what he does for a living by reading this passage. No wonder so many C-suite execs don’t “get” PR. It’s time we start reading our own press releases — then rewriting them.
“Public relations professionals look forward to enormous opportunities to advance the role of the profession by creating rigorous yet respectful dialogue at all levels of society,” added Julin. “The influences of new media, increasing diversity and a 2008 presidential campaign will thrust the profession into the public spotlight in new ways. PRSA is ready to advocate for communications standards, practices and ethics that emphasize the full range of public relations to create respectful engagement that honors all perspectives.”
Among the first lessons I teach in a sophomore-level writing class is to favor the concrete over the abstract. Make it easy for your reader to grasp your message. Tell your story clearly and concisely. Use simple words, tangible examples, clear descriptions.
Julin is president of MGA Communications, a Denver-based firm consistently ranked as one of the region’s top communications firms and nationally regarded for award-winning work in stakeholder engagement, crisis communications and issues management. (Emphasis is mine.)
Another lesson of Media Writing 101 is to limit the use of adjectives and adverbs to words that illustrate dimension and intensity. Avoid fluffy adjectives like the ones highlighted above. They communicate nothing, and they alienate editors.
The news release should help an organization tell its story. But first you must have a story to tell. Then you must present it in straightforward fashion. Today’s release from PRSA accomplishes neither.
In my sophomore-level writing class, the release earns a “gentleman’s C,” but only if the student promises to rewrite it. Submit this release in my senior-level Media Relations class and I won’t be such a gentleman when assigning the grade.
After 60 years of hanging around the PR biz, you’d think PRSA would know how to do this stuff. And in case you’re wondering, I give this sort of candid feedback to my students all the time. And I’m certain they love me for it.
If you’d like to send a message in support of my concerns, you can do so through the Facebook group: PRSA Need Professional PR Help — NOW! (Missing link. See update below.)
Update 2/26/2010: I have taken down the Facebook page. While I still have issues with PRSA and its leadership, the society has cleaned up its act when it comes to publicity. Most of the the news releases have a lot less fluff these days and are a lot easier to access. How much “news” those releases contain is another matter for another discussion. But news releases aren’t just for news media anymore, and that’s yet another discussion. Anyway, I thought I should explain the dead link.