I came to PR in a roundabout way, via engineering, marketing, sales and IT consulting. When I finally landed in PR (at the agency where I still work today), I learned I was good at this.
But key experiences along the way led me to wonder what it means to do a good job in PR. Does getting results from what some might call B.S. amount to a good day’s work?
The first experience involved a startup in networking software. It was really dense tech – to do the job well, you needed to sweat the details about core router algorithms, for example. At some point, I got it and started pulling in impressive results.
One time I was at a dinner with the client team following a day a trade show. The CEO was raising a glass, saying nice words about each of us in turn. When it came to me, he thanked me profusely and praised my ability to craft great stories from nothing.
The compliment threw me for a loop. I had believed in them; drank the Kool-Ade. I did not think of my work as spinning B.S. The praise seemed backhanded, took the air out of all the hard work I had done. Should I feel proud, ashamed?
There were other clients back then. This was the dotcom era, also around the end of Seinfeld; a TV show that was famously about nothing. We used to joke that many of our PR campaigns were about nothing.
More recently, I worked on a pitch for a client. It relied on stealth and a humorous come-on to build curiosity. The pitch had remarkably little substance; some might say it was about nothing.
But it worked! The campaign drew interest from the biggest names in tech and business press.
Was this a good job? We’re still converting the early interest into briefings and stories – so it is early to tell, on a pure PR performance basis.
Looking at the bigger picture, sure, we all want to think we are doing meaningful work, our small part to make the world a better place. If that is all that you care about, perhaps a PR agency is not the right place. Go work for a non-profit or some mission-driven organization that you believe in.
If you do work at an agency, I am sure you’ll get to work with many types of clients, some interesting, others real winners, and still others, meh. Hopefully, your agency management has the guts to walk away from anything unethical or dodgy.
Beyond that, all is fair in love, war, and PR. Most companies and products have their plusses and minuses. It is your job to help them succeed.
And that pitch about nothing? If it interested a journalist, who wrote a story their readers enjoyed; if the coverage furthered the client’s business goals – I’d argue that yes, it was PR job well done.