Trust Me, PR is Dead

By Robert Phillips

The Former EMEA President and CEO of the world’s largest PR firm on the end of PR

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Accusations of "sensationalism" may be understandable - but they are wrong

So, the week ended with a flurry of somewhat pointless exchanges in social media about the title of my book. The irony was not lost: two or three senior (PR) industry leaders agreeing with the substance of the argument but constantly taking issue with the title. Some are clearly reluctant to look beyond the headlines and opt for easy soundbites instead. They are maybe fearful of what lurks beneath. Or perhaps they just know that the game is up.

I am of course happy that blogger Paul Sutton sees Trust Me, PR Is Dead as a "superbly written assessment", a "very valid argument" (his words) and a "call to arms" (a phrase we share). I am sorry he is offended by what he sees as the "sensationalism" of the title, while noting with amusement that his original blog post was itself headed, somewhat sensationallly, "The Massive Issue..." (he later changed it)Sensationalism was never my intent.

I have been explicit throughout. The original working title was "World Gone Wrong" - capturing a story wider than the demise of PR, as well as homage to a decent Dylan album. But that title did not seem to work. Its successor "Biscuits and Bathrooms" (my preference) was deemed too obscure. This was a reference to the classic Fred Goodwin RBS memo about "rogue biscuits" - pink, not corporate blue - and the fact that company values are forever published on washroom walls, as though we can only think about ethics and values while we pee. Together, more evidence of a world gone wrong, with corporate leaders, like politicians, often focused on absolutely the wrong things.

The eventual title was the inspiration of my publisher, Dan Kieran. His point was simple: you have a great argument, Robert - make sure you provoke the debate it deserves and don't disconnect the collapse of trust with the failings of PR. This is not just a book about PR, as many reviewers have noted.

Commenting on Friday, Dan added:

"The title is something I came up with for the reasons Robert outlines but also because fundamentally it seeks an audience outside PR. The PR world will of course have a strong view on the contents, but Robert's profound belief in transparency and how that impacts business and government will resonate with anyone aware of the changes being wrought in the world today.

"As an aside, one of the major successes of the book in my view is the way Robert deliberately invited these kinds of criticism of his arguments while he wrote it during the crowd-funding process. I've not come across that very often. As a result this book was informed by the 'crowd' of people who engaged with him just as much as Robert himself."

The crowd point is an important one. Trust Me, PR Is Dead has been as much a collaborative, crowd intelligence exercise as it has been a publishing one. The 250+ active participants in the project have not objected to the book's title, still less to its thesis. In fact, they have embraced it warmly. Only a few, isolated elitists from an old world order have taken issue. They are, to quote another blogger equally surprised at the kerfuffle over the book's title, "talking utter bollocks". They are being lazy at best, and probably mischevious, too.

Finally, as one Amazon reviewer noted in a post "Robert skilfully avoids the trap many commentators fall into of allowing his passion to overtake the argument - his opinion is underpinned with an almost inscrutable layer of logic."

So, there you have it. Those that know me well, understand that I am much more interested in making the case, than in selling heaps of books (sorry, Dan). I have no appetite for sensationalism nor was sensationalism ever intended - but some may yet still be needed to kill-off the last vestiges and protectors of fading agency empires.


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