Home > PR and social media > PR Needs More Controversy

PR Needs More Controversy

February 9, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

(Mary Ann / Ginger photo stolen from random Web site)
Last week – probably in order to cover-up for the crappy Pro Bowl game – the NFL released its All-Decade Team for the 2000s. As expected, this list created controversy on every sports show and in bars from coast to coast.

This made me wonder, why isn’t there more controversy regarding lists like the Top 10 PR / SM (pick your category) Bloggers? Or top Industry Tweeters? Today, virtually everyone has a list of the industry’s best. Yet, you hardly ever hear any arguments. Are we all just being too polite? All the lists can’t be right.

No offense to the folks and sites like Chris BroganSeth GodinBrian SolisShel Holtz, PRSarahEvansDave Fleet, MashablePR SquaredDanny Brown, and Adam Singer’s The Future Buzz that are often at the top of these lists. I agree these people are well deserving of their standing in the community, but who is The Best? And does it matter? It should because…

No one likes a tie. Many people criticized the NFL (National Fence-sitting League) for selecting both Tom Brady and Payton Manning as quarterbacks and both Tony Dungy and Bill Belichick as head coach. Hell, that is like saying you like both Mary Ann and Ginger. It just isn’t done. Pick one damn it. People like to have winners and loser.
All-time best lists always start conversations. I’m a boxing fan and I’ve had the ‘who is the best heavyweight champion of all time’ conversation many many times. 
Ali? Marciano? Louis? Who is the best? Well for this blog the answer doesn’t matter. The point is that no self-respecting boxing fan will say, ‘it doesn’t matter who is the best, I like them all.’ This isn’t tee ball, not everyone gets a trophy.

Arguments are just loud debates. You don’t walk into a sports bar and hear people saying, ‘Well, Kobe and Jordan are two of the best basketball players ever, it doesn’t matter who was the best.’ Umm, yes, yes it does. It’s called an opinion.

The controversy is about who is The Best not who are the five or ten best. If you want to start a heated discussion at your next dinner party, say, ‘Hoosiers is the best sports movie of all-time.’ Or, ‘Nirvana was way more influential than Jimi Hendrix.’ But saying PRSarahEvans is better than PR Squared won’t even cause a second look – even at a PRSA meeting.

Discussing and debating these things are good and healthy. These debates are fun because for most of us view conversations about all-time greats as Black and White. Love and Hate. Right and Wrong.  

So I’ll ask again, why do PR and SM lists lack controversy? Do we not care enough? Are we reluctant to criticize folks on the top of these lists because they are just regular folks trying to make a living and not super rich celebrities or athletes. Is it because we know some of these folks personally? I’m not thinking we need to tear down the folks at the top just for the sake of it. But the opposite of love isn’t hate it is indifference. Are we indifferent about the industry we work in? If so, why?
By the way, if you are wondering the answers to the above debates are Brady, Belichick, Mary Ann, Joe Louis, Jordan, and Hendrix. I’ll argue these choices with anyone. 
But, regarding who is the best PR/MKT/SM blogger…I’ve got no idea and I’m not sure why. 
  1. February 10, 2010 at 6:01 pm

    Interesting post! It came to mind that an explanation for the low level of contention in PR as compared to sports or music is that we haven’t all had the same experiences with each other’s body of work. Although our processes are likely somewhat similar in PR, our challenges have been varied, presenting many different ways to shine. It’s tough to judge because usually we’re not looking at an apples to apples comparison, and often we just don’t have enough information to really form an opinion. Those who have been listed at the top have usually done something impressive or very public (like mastering social media early on or writing a popular book). It’s arguable that these selected individuals have risen to the top of another field or subset, such as non-fiction writing or Social Media PR. Not as a criticism of their Public Relations expertise (because I simply don’t have the real world knowledge of working with them, studying their resume or following their case studies and results), I would venture to guess that on the playing field of research, planning, implementation and evaluation, these top dogs have many peers who might even teach them a few new tricks. Thanks for starting the conversation!

  2. Anonymous
    February 10, 2010 at 6:47 pm

    Interesting post. As a PR person, I just don’t have time to worry about who’s trying to pimp themselves as the greatest this or that because I’m trying to get work done for my clients. Besides, all of the names will be different within the next year or so because the next shiny object will come around and others will quickly attach themselves to it.

  3. February 10, 2010 at 7:44 pm

    Hey Paul,

    You raise an interesting but not isolated question. I do have an answer for you, but it’s unrelated to any of the names above because specific examples aren’t really needed to address it.

    The long and short is that plenty of people question the position and/or ideas of different people from time to time, and the names do change. In fact, many of the names I followed in 2004 are no more while others have risen with exposure.

    Sometimes it’s deserved. Sometimes it’s because people ‘like’ them. Sometimes it’s because they land a position somewhere. Sometimes … well, there are many reasons. Each as unique as the individuals.

    It’s not really the people anyone really needs to be concerned about. It’s about ideas and the work. And the best thing anyone can do is challenge the ideas that seem off and elevate the ideas that need exposure. The rest will sort itself out.


  4. February 10, 2010 at 7:57 pm

    Although Anonymous’ choice of words on our industry’s well-knowns is way off-base and inappropriate, I do agree with him/her that many of us have chosen to focus more on our own (read our clients’) needs and time demands. As our clients don’t include our peer group and we don’t monitize our blog, or our other SM efforts, we don’t seek a level of notoriety among other PR professionals

    It takes huge amounts of time and effort to share and do what the folks you listed do. They do what they do very, very well. We will be eternally grateful to all of them for what they have shared and for the roles they have taken that makes it possible for us (and all of us) to learn and grow and for our sector to not only survive tumultuous changes, but thrive.

    All that said, I vote for “it doesn’t matter’ to me who is “best”. We are all better because of all of them. Each individual and company brings a unique perspective and knowledge to the party. Everyone gets to take the pieces that matter the most to them.

    Bottom line: Those who do what all of those on ‘the lists’ do, make my life better. IMHO, it’s not passivity that causes all of us not to challenge ‘the lists’, it’s lack of time and gratitude 🙂

  5. Anonymous
    February 10, 2010 at 10:41 pm

    Good Morning Paul:

    Excellent thoughts on who should be ranked in the “Top 10 This/That” for public relations, or almost any industry or profession. What we do in public relations is build relationships between the organization and its publics. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to determine who should rank in the Top 10, 20 or 1,000.

    Besides, why do we need a ranking procedure in the first place? Who cares (unless you’re selling books or seminars) who’s on first? Your value should be what you deliver to the client.

    Now, this may be stretching this discussion a bit, but here goes. Composer Bela Bartok had this comment: “Competition is for horses, not artists.” PR professionals are not horses, nor are we artists. The point is that the only true measure of coming out on top is through an activity where there’s a clear winner, like a horse race.

    Finally,a shameless promotion: Please consider adding my blog to your list of favorites.


    Edward M. Bury, APR

  6. Anonymous
    February 10, 2010 at 11:51 pm

    I doubt it is as much a commentary on public relations professionals attitudes toward the industry as it is total apathy about such stupid lists.

    What working professional in this industry really has the time, energy or inclination to go through the hoopla to nominate themselves as candidates?

    And if they do get nominated, does anyone really care? I could not tell you one name from one list that you refer to and I don’t think that hurts the quality of work I do one bit.

  7. February 11, 2010 at 7:48 am

    Thank you Anonymous one and Anonymous two.

    I do appreciate you both taking the time to stop by and comment. I wish you left your names so we could have a more personal conversation, because you have interesting and strong views.

    I agree with some of the points both of you make, but let me be clear, I’m not REALLY suggesting we make one uber list of top PR / SM pros.

    I’m saying that we should have a more open all-inclusive conversation about the industry with everyone’s opinion being heard. And by commenting here, you’ve joined the conversation. Maybe next time you’ll let us know how you are. Thanks again.

  8. February 11, 2010 at 7:57 am

    Thanks for your comment Edward. Regarding your question about why we need a list of top industry pros, that wasn’t really my point. My larger point was that the lists already exist, but we as an industry don’t question or debate the lists. I’m just trying to encourage more industry wide conversation. Thanks for stopping by and advancing that conversation.

    I hope you come back.

  9. February 11, 2010 at 7:59 am

    Hi Kathleen, I can’t tell you enough how much I appreciate you coming by and posting such a thoughtful response. Please do continue to stop by and add your commentary.

  10. February 11, 2010 at 8:11 am

    Alex Irving, thanks for your comments and for taking the time to post on this blog. I think – and kind of hope – that you are correct that the lack of controversy surrounding these top ten lists is based on the fact that we are all just too busy and that these people are leaders because they worked for it and at it.

    Again, thanks for coming by and adding to the (hopefully ongoing) conversation.

  11. February 11, 2010 at 8:35 am

    Hey Richard Becker, thanks for your comment. You make a very very good point that the names at the top of the lists don’t matter if all of us in the industry are learning and advancing.

    I’m with you in that I don’t care who is at the top of the lists as long as we continue to be involved in the larger conversation. Hopefully conversations like the one we are having here will help a bit.

    Please come by again to chat some more soon.

  12. Jules Zunich
    February 11, 2010 at 8:53 am

    Via Twitter 6:34pm, Feb 09
    @PaulRobertspar ~ No, it doesn’t need more controversy. PR Squared. And we’re not indifferent, we’re open: there’s enough like to go around.

  13. February 11, 2010 at 8:56 am

    Via Twitter 6:29pm, Feb 09
    Don’t if PR needs controversy or a well-understood value prop

  14. February 11, 2010 at 8:59 am

    Via Twitter 2:14pm, Feb 09
    @PaulRobertspar as you used it in your blog post title, how exactly do you define “PR?” Many of your cited examples *aren’t* in PR, IMNSHO.

  15. February 11, 2010 at 9:08 am

    Via Twitter Feb 09

    This (is) a fine post and worth a read this AM– Does PR Need More Controversy (via Paul Roberts on PR)…The blog was a real conversation starter. I liked it to kick off my day.

  16. February 14, 2010 at 5:01 am

    Theoretically, any PR/social media person is only as good as his or her last campaign, blog or Tweet. So how could a list keep up-to-date?

    Perhaps PR needs a “People’s Choice” awards, or a “Client’s Choice” awards — peer or client recommendations and recognition?

    Truth is, as PR folks, we should know that controversy can lead to increased awareness. Maybe the top PR folks need to be assertive and opinionated? Maybe we need some TweetChat debates?

    After all, if we create controversy, more will take notice of the talents of everyone.

  17. February 14, 2010 at 7:06 am

    Hey Kelley, thanks for the comment – and all the questions. Honestly I don’t think the list itself is all that important, but yes I agree with the idea that more controversy brings more attention to the entire industry.

    Thanks again for the comment. Did I see you started your blog again?

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: