The 7 Letter Word PR Professionals Don’t Want To Talk About

On a recent flight, I was flipping through the movie channels and came across The Post, the story of Katharine Graham, the first female newspaper publisher in the U.S. Considering it critical historical research into US news media, I gave it a watch, and one scene in particular caught my attention. Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep step away from a dinner party and they debate whether or not to print a certain, now-historic story. The type-setting was complete. The printers were ready and waiting. All they had to say was yes or no, and it would change the course of history.

This was, for me, an iconic news moment. A behind-the-scenes look at the pressure and urgency that drives the news industry and, similarly, the public relations industry.

Public relations is rooted in news and the news, historically, has been driven by deadlines. Even today, when publishing is happening digitally in real time, there are deadlines. And we as PR professionals live and die by those deadlines.

But the business of news has changed, opening up more considerations than just timeliness. The amount of content available is staggering and people are consuming far more content than ever before. The channels that influence news, and ultimately determine relevant news, are much wider and varied. In response, PR has become channel agnostic, so we take a 360 degree approach to shifting conversations and driving awareness in this crowded marketplace – also requiring PR to be more strategy-driven than ever before.

And so the goalposts for public relations professionals are moving. Yes, there are plenty of areas in public relations where speed is still necessary – crisis communications, media relations. But there are also plenty of areas now where speed is not as important as thoughtful strategy. Identifying goals, bringing in the right expertise and delivering high quality, channel-relevant, best-in-class work can take time.

It takes, in a word, process.

This concept of a methodical and staged process to get to the most impactful strategic and creative outcome is something our partners in marketing agencies have understood from the start: strategic thinking is tied to creative processes and processes can take time.

Ultimately, the ability to know when to move fast and when to slow down is one of the big adjustments taking place as traditional PR agencies become integrated communications firms.

I’ve always believed that agencies with PR at their core would lead the way in integrating, because our fast, flexible and strategic nature allows us to adapt more quickly to evolving environments. While it’s a journey Spectrum has been on, the last step in that integration process for our agency—helping our clients determine when to move fast and when to slow down—is still a work in progress.

Why is helping our clients determine when to move fast and when to slow down the last, critical step in becoming a fully integrated communications firm? Because they too are seasoned public relations professionals, accustomed to urgency and “getting it done” as a cultural norm. But their goalposts are also changing. Together we have to take a step back and evaluate, daily, what is really breaking, what has to happen urgently and what would benefit from slowing down, bringing in the right experts and engaging in a process that may very well lead to a more meaningful, resonant final product.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn by Jonathan Wilson, Spectrum President and CEO, as the first half of a conversation with Michelle Strier, EVP and head of Spectrum's biotech practice. Read more about her perspectives on the importance of process in integrated communications and how agencies and clients can work together to balance timelines with process.

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