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Higginson Strategy’s Esmé Parkins: We need to rebrand PR

Esmé Parkins, account executive at Higginson Strategy, argues that PR needs to get better at PRing itself to ensure the wider world understands communicators’ value.

McDonald’s, Netflix and Apple. A fast food outlet, a streaming subscription service and a tech giant, each offering a distinctly different product but nevertheless intrinsically linked. What these companies have in common goes beyond their industry-leading status and extends to their ability to successfully rebrand in a changing marketplace.

This skill has protected the companies’ market appeal and ensured their longevity as technology progresses and our tastes alter. As comms professionals, we can all appreciate the value of a good brand, and yet our own industry does not benefit from one.

To understand the PR brand, you need look no further than its portrayal in the media. It’s parodied in British cult classic W1A, it’s stereotyped in Sex and the City, it’s pigeon-holed in House of Cards. The Bell Pottinger scandal wreaked havoc by materialising the stereotypes which paint our work as greed-induced and underhand.

PR’s stereotype is an unfair reflection

It’s hard to come up with examples where the real side of PR is shown, the side we’re all familiar with but no-one else seems to be. The vapid, over-the-top and dishonest depictions of PR have led to widespread misunderstanding of what we do, leading to the misnomer that PR is an industry no-one can define.

We know we behave like chameleons, adapting quickly to the ever-changing news media landscape, to the rise of social media and the blurring of the lines between PR and other comms roles.

We know we do genuinely complex, creative and strategic work. Work which requires juxtaposing skills to work in tandem. Work that is behind some of the biggest societal movements of our time.

The existing public image of PR undermines this. So, while we’re everywhere, we’re also nowhere. While we make a living making noise about our clients, we aren’t making enough noise about ourselves.

This is a problem now more than ever. We live in a world which is more socially responsible than it has ever been and soon the working population will be dominated by people who have grown up with this as their norm.

These people are more likely to look for a career which provides more than the current portrayal of PR appears to offer. So, it is vital they know the complexities and nuances of the industry if we are to continue to attract a diverse pool of talent.

What a PR rebrand entails

To successfully rebrand, we need to show that PR can be purpose-led.

Google used it to fight the catastrophic Ebola pandemic, Save the Children used it to ignite global empathy for children in Syria through the Most Shocking Second A Day campaign, A Plastic Planet used it to inspire action against the plastics crisis with One Plastic Free Day.

We can reflect on our knowledge of the importance of branding, on the work we do for our clients and apply these principles to our own industry.

As some of the most connected people on earth, it’s time to make use of our platform for ourselves to show the industry for what it is and to rebrand PR to protect and promote it for generations to come.