Tools Change. Not the Job…

Tools Change. Not the Job…

“Men have become the tools of their tools.”
Henry David Thoreau

The debate about what PR is and should do in the brave new world of social networks makes no sense. I do not buy into the concept that there is a PR 2.0. The tools have changed. The job has not.

Too much of what I read is about how everything has changed. Really? Isn’t an organization’s progress toward its goals still one of the few reasons any resources should be committed to anything? It should be.

The reason for communicating has been, is and always will be to inform, influence and convince. New channels like social media may change how we can get the job done but they don’t change the reason or the goal. Most importantly, new ways to reach people do not change how people are convinced. We still need to tell them a clear, concise and credible story when and where they can and will listen.

Seeing people trying to make social media a new silo in the communication world is wrong. PR agencies already have too many specialties, practices and experts. Having sat in the management meetings where many of these shiny new things were created, I can tell you they were conceived as ways to raise revenues and, hopefully, margins. Last time I checked that hadn’t worked out so well and PR was still at or close to the top of disposable expenses when times get tight for an organization.

Seriously, it is time to get real and do the job without getting caught up in the tools. Shiny objects do not change the basic definition of what PR should be doing for organizations.

Way back in PR 101 in 1972, the primary textbook was “Effective Public Relations” by Cutlip and Center, the fourth edition. Their definition of PR still seems right to me today. I checked and they are on the 10th edition now. While the definition is probably less sexist, and hopefully updated to reflect change, I’m going to pass on buying an updated version.

Their definition of the PR Counselor’s job was:

  1. To facilitate and insure an inflow of representative opinions from an organization’s several publics so that its policies and operations may be kept compatible with the diverse needs and views of these publics.
  2. To counsel management on ways and means of shaping an organization’s policies and operations to gain maximum public acceptance.
  3. To devise and implement programs that will gain wide and favorable interpretations of an organization’s policies and operations.

OK, me being me, I’d be more direct:

  1. Listen to the people who will make a difference in your organization’s future and share what you learn with the people who need to know. And I don’t mean just the supporters!
  2. Give management your best advice on how and what to do to get the support needed to succeed.
  3. Share your story with the people who count in a clear, concise and credible way.

The better organizations execute those three points in their communications, the more success they have. Not listening to the people who count, ignoring public opinion in setting policies and strategies, and not telling the world about it properly are all recipes for failure.

That hasn’t changed in the last 35 years – or ever!

Instead of trying to pretend the world has changed, it’s time for people to start figuring out how to use the new tools to get the job done better.


  • Excellent points, Rick, and I’m glad to see you’re blogging! I think you’re right on so many levels. When you drill down to the basics, communicating is the same as it’s always been. I do suspect today’s communication is more “authentic” because of the tools we use. Today we have multiple TWO-way public conversations with the volume turned all the way up. No more corporate silos just pushing agendas. In a sense, the medium influences the message, no?

    Again, great to find you here! 🙂 Jenifer Olson

    September 15, 2011 at 12:40 am
    • Rick Rice


      Thanks. The medium is influencing the message more than ever and I find that a big step forward.

      September 16, 2011 at 10:07 am
  • Jim Martinez

    For too many years, professional communicators — and primarily those at agencies — have suggested some “alchemy” is required to communicate about specific industries or through specific channels. And for too many years those experts have come up short when communications need to seriously protect corporate reputations from attack because, while the fundamentals of corporate reputation are industry- and channel-agnostic, many folks practicing in those areas generally focus on pieces of an organization’s communication, ignoring the rest of the puzzle. You’re right Rick, effective communications are generally pretty simple. But, as an old newspaper editor of mine once said, “it’s tough to make things simple.”

    September 20, 2011 at 9:31 am
    • Rick Rice

      Nice to see you here, Mr. Martinez. It has been way too long, Jim. Good luck with the new company, love the name RightStoryGroup. It is the right story that gets the job done.

      You know how much I love keeping things simple and there are a couple of future posts percolating on that very subject. And hey, if simple was easy they wouldn’t need people like you and me.

      Thanks for visiting and commenting!

      September 20, 2011 at 9:43 am