Every so often, when I want to feel true pain, I subject myself to one of the single worst websites on the internet – PRDaily – a snake eating its own tail of PR people in denial about their relevance to the world at large, with the occasional summary of how a big company spent millions of dollars and how PR people were at some point involved. They also love to make posts, just like the rest of the industry, about lessons you might learn about PR from something not related to PR, such as The Lessons You Can Learn About PR From Bird-Brained Historically Inaccurate and Genuinely Terrible Rap-Musical Hamilton.
This awful screed is an example of PR people searching for relevance and importance in popular culture, a truly depressing and embarrassing pursuit. This is the career version of buyer’s remorse – when you realize the job you do is not exactly the most important in the world, instead of saying “hey, at least I get paid money and people are happy,” you say the following:
The post, “7 PR lessons from ‘Hamilton,’” is the platonic form of these “how do I make this about PR” posts:
- Incredible stretches of interpretation to make something from X media thing about PR: ““I am not throwing away my shot.” For PR pros, this phrase has many applications. There’s only a small window to jump on a social media trend or be the first to the table with a clever phrase that stands out online. Often, you have one chance to successfully pitch your story in a way that piques reporters’ curiosity.
- Totally nonsensical shit: After Burr, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson approach Hamilton with evidence suggesting that he embezzled funds, Hamilton publishes “The Reynolds Pamphlet,” which outlines his torrid affair with Maria Reynolds…If members of your organization have messed up, whether they’re employees who have overstepped or an executive who is trying to cover up misconduct, persuade them to get ahead of the narrative. This involves coming clean and being transparent with the crisis, along with taking responsibility for the fallout and outlining reparations or ways it won’t happen again.
- An attempt to make PR seem more important through stretches of logic: “I want to be in the room where it happens.” PR pros can sympathize with Burr’s outburst in Act Two. For communicators, it’s all about getting a seat at the strategy and decision-making table. To ensure your place, focus on being a business professional who can expertly communicate, instead of a communicator with some business knowledge.
- Some sort of point about how, despite making an entire post on PR’s relevance, you have no actual control over anything that happens in the public: “You have no control who lives, who dies, who tells your story.” Remember that you don’t control the narrative of your media coverage nor social media engagement. Reporters are there to tell stories their readers will want to read, not elevate you and your organization. Members of your online community might sing your praises or criticize your practices, but they want to have a dialogue with you, not be blasted with additional brand copy.
These posts are some of the most cynical, putrid deposits in PR, and, while seemingly harmless, are part of a larger issue of misleading and gaslighting young PR people into believing that they have a larger affect on the world than they do. By making these posts about PR lessons from a big famous thing, you are telling the PR person that everything is about PR, that PR has relevance to everything, that they are more important than they think and that their world can be seen through the lens of PR.
By leading PR people to have a greater degree of self importance, you relax the need for critiques – both of oneself and of the industry at large – and a genuine ignorance of that which may cause you to be better at your job. The irony is that these same people who love these posts also talk about how the PR person isn’t the story, while at the same time trying to feel as important as they possibly can. It’s fine to not be important, it’s fine to not be popular, and it’s fine to not have relevance to every piece of modern culture.
I really do mean that, and I want to be clear to PR people that just because your job can be described as sending emails at scale or writing lots of documents, that’s totally fine. You are in a well-compensated industry with lots of work. You do things that do have an affect on the world, though those things may be someone else’s achievements, and that’s okay too. Your job isn’t as interesting to describe as, say, a doctor’s, or a lawyer’s, but guess what? It’s also nowhere near as hard to do and requires far fewer qualifications. You don’t have to make up why you’re important, you don’t have to puff it up, you have a good job, and through said job you likely have a better chance at working at the companies you want to work at than most people.
Please, stop trying to pretend we’re more important than we are. Be happy with what you’ve got.
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