As you may be aware, a front-page story that ran in the Akron Beacon Journal on Sunday, Nov. 26 by Phil Trexler, thrust our profession into the spotlight. We are happy to report that your Akron-Area Chapter of PRSA responded to Trexler's story.
We believe we have provided thoughtful, appropriate responses to Trexler's perpetuation of stereotypes and misunderstandings about our profession. PRSA Akron President Carrie Ann Kandes, APR, and nominated President-Elect Dr. Jeanette Drake, APR, both authored letters to the Beacon Journal's "Voice of the People." Drake's letter was printed on Monday. Here are both for your review and comment:
Carrie Ann Kandes, President, PRSA Akron
As the president of the Akron-Area Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), I feel compelled to respond to Phil Trexler's recent story about public relations professionals who work for local government entities. I believe Mr. Trexler really missed the point.
The conflict at play in this story is not a new one. Mr. Trexler has targeted an important societal issue, but he misfires when he attempts to identify the cause of the problem. Certainly, it can be argued that teachers, police officers, prosecuting attorneys and other public servants should derive more public value and earn higher salaries than they traditionally have in our society. But I am fairly certain this issue will not be resolved by calling into question the efforts and earnings of senior professionals who also strive to serve the public with work that is effective, meaningful and ethical.
I believe it's important to note that government entities are not exempt from paying the market rate to acquire the services they need. Salaries are set by the free market and are commensurate with a professional's experience. The market rate for a senior-level communications officer is typically higher than the market rate for a police officer or a teacher. Surely, the Beacon Journal's attorneys earn more than reporters, and for similar reasons. Mr. Trexler's story seemed to imply that public relations counselors in the public sector are overpaid simply because others who work for the same entities earn less. Had he compared the salaries of the communications executives he cited to those of professionals in similar positions in the private sector, I believe he would have concluded differently.
While media relations is often the most visible element of the profession, the role of the senior public relations counselor extends far beyond leveraging media relations. That work can range from communicating essential information about everything from schools to traffic control to higher education to products and services that save lives. Perhaps the broader role of public relations was overlooked because reporters are often only exposed to one facet of public relations work - media relations.
The management of media relations is something that is important not only to the organizations we represent but to the media at large. Under the best of circumstances, the relationship between the public relations counselor and the reporter/editor can and should be mutually beneficial. Public relations counselors make decisions about who to put in front of the media that are based largely on the needs and demands of reporters, editors and consumers of news. Certainly a news organization would more often than not choose to speak to the president rather than a cabinet member if given the choice. This situation in comparison to the one noted in Mr. Trexler's story is worth considering.
Akron PRSA represents and supports more than 100 educated, skilled professionals in the Akron area. Many public relations practitioners in this community work relentlessly to increase and communicate the value we all derive from our governments, our employers, the companies we patronize and the organizations we support. They are truly advocates for the clients and organizations they represent. Your story accomplished little more than to perpetuate age-old stereotypes about our profession. Why not get down to brass tracks and talk about the real issues involved in the salaries of teachers, police officers and other public servants? Your readers deserve nothing less.
Dr. Jeanette Drake, President-Elect, Akron PRSA
Akron Beacon Journal reporter Phil Trexler asked important questions in his Nov. 26 story headlined "Image makers at work in Akron."
Residents should question how tax dollars are spent. We should be concerned about the exorbitant pay disparity between top executives and front line workers. After all, American execs have become fat cats, earning 475 times that of an average worker as compared with execs in Hong Kong, Britain and Japan, who respectively earn just 41, 22, and 11 times the average Joe.
Indeed, we should reflect on our values as a society when we compare salaries of folks of every stripe--from athletes and celebrities to teachers, police officers and journalists.
That said, it would be a mistake to underestimate the value of public relations in this 21st Century of hair-trigger communications. A 92 percent placement rate among PR undergraduates and a recently launched master's program in public relations at Kent State University reflect the growing importance of this management function.
It's no coincidence that public relations ranks in the top 20 careers; every organization understands its value.
Just like legal and financial advisors, public relations counselors play a critical role at the top levels of an organization. Simply put, the PR professional acts as a boundary manager--interpreting public will to management and, in turn, interpreting organizational policies and practices to the public.
Promotion and publicity are just two small parts of the much larger scope of public relations, which includes building relationships, building trust and safeguarding an organization's reputation. It includes keeping a finger on the pulse of public opinion, helping an organization and its publics adapt to each other, being prepared for crises, and maintaining mutually beneficial two-way communications.
We all know relationships are no walk in the park, and if image weren't important enough to bankroll, northeast Ohio wouldn't be focused on improving that very thing these days. The truth is, both perception and police curb crime. Image alongside imagination built Silicon Valley.
Although "talk" may not be cheap in terms of the salary that PR executives earn, managing effective communication and good relationships is less costly than the alternative we've seen at every level of government, including botched levy campaigns, disastrous disaster relief and poorly planned wars.
Make no mistake, actions speak louder than words. PR is about more than saying the right thing; it's about doing the right thing. Bottom line, government PR is more than worth its weight in taxes when it puts the public first.