The Apostles of Public Relations

When Disciples Become Detractors
“…Act in the best interests of the client or employer, even subordinating the member’s personal interests.”  From the PRSA Code of Provisions

The career trajectory of public relations practitioners is hierarchical like any other career field. Most enter at the technician level with words like assistant or junior in their job title, and, early on the eye is focused on the ascent.

Some crawl up the ladder to success with ease while others nervously clamor. There are always those who are content to claw their way to the top, grazing and tearing their co-workers in the process. In case you didn’t know, these the people you want to avoid.

In the end, those PR people who make it beyond the technician role to become full-blow strategists who solve problems and facilitate communication fall into a variety of categories, but two primarily, the secure and the insecure.

The secure include professionals with a strong work ethic along with skills, talent and experience to spare. They almost always seek to advance the same in their subordinates.

The insecure include professionals who, for the most part, may work hard and are dependable, but often gain positions of leadership because they outlast everyone else in the organization. These individuals are the biggest drag to work with (not to mention for) because they are very quick to control the amount of success and recognition their co-workers and subordinates achieve. This is done to the peril of the organizations they serve, but they are too afraid to care.

This is hardly the essence of an apostle. PR practitioners are relied upon to be messengers, advocates, promoters, champions and supporters of a messiah of cause. They should be an organization’s most loyal disciples; devoted, adhering, following or guiding and believing. So, when the disciple detracts from a mutual proponent something has gone terribly awry.

You think it wouldn’t happen very often, but the truth is it happens all the time. A more traditional way to explain it away is infighting: internal power struggles that dismantle and compartmentalize organizations. Backbiting, squabbling and wrangling focus attention away from common goals. The messiah of cause is left exposed to non-believers. Messages get stuck in the pipeline and champions grow flabby. Natural-born promoters grow bored, disinterested and move on.

The best way organizations can manage this somewhat inevitable conflict with the PR function is to hire individuals who have a clear understanding of public relations as a support function. In today’s job market, there is a plethora of brilliant and hard-working content creators. Those who are also mature (age not a factor) and humble are much harder to come by.

The best way PR practitioners can head this conflict off at the pass is to choose employment with organizations that are mission-oriented and not personality-driven. It will always be easier to believe in causes than people.

It’s also important for those starting out in the profession to understand that few positions in an organization involve as much self-effacement and servant leadership as PR.

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From time to time I’ll write about PR under the above heading. If you feel inspired to write a guest post along these lines, please email me, zenobiapr[at]gmail[dot]com.


  1. says

    @DUSTIN – Thanks for the comment. It’s validating. As an independent practitioner, I feel parolled. I hope we get to work on a project together sometime! Indies Rock! =)

  2. Friar says

    My memories of newspaper days support your thoughts (although we used more colorful metaphors).

    And I think this:

    “The secure include professionals with a strong work ethic along with skills, talent and experience to spare. They almost always seek to advance the same in their subordinates.”

    holds true across most fields of work, not just PR.

  3. says

    @LINDSAY – Thank you! I know, I think the litmus test for PR practitioners is media relations. When I hear my journalist friends talk about PR practitioners they can’t stand, I always think I would have had to work much harder than I have for them to dislike me that much.