Friday, January 6, 2012

What makes PR so darn stressful?

Yesterday PRNewser posed the question, "What makes PR so darn stressful?" Neither the post nor the immediate comments acknowledged one fundamental answer to that question that's obvious to the PR research community.

Public relations people have a very meager body of research to consult at any time when they are faced with a challenge -- determining a strategy or just selecting a tactic.

Every PR task may be different -- but that's a cop-out. Every tooth a dentist faces is different, too. But the dentist has a body of research evidence -- anatomy, biology, pharmacology, etc. -- that he has learned or can consult before applying a procedure. With science behind the decision-making, you can approach an action with a high level of confidence about likely results -- and with less personal stress.

Most PR people in most PR situations have only their 1) knowledge of "principles of PR" (rarely or thinly tested and verified), 2) past (idiosyncratic) personal experience, and 3) intuition. All of which sometimes works. Sometimes doesn't. (This also explains why PR/communications "experts" are often kinds of celebrities/shamans and not scientists.)

The PR person is less like that trained dentist with centuries of scientific method backing him up, and is more like an unsophisticated gambler -- with little knowledge of the odds of success and failure and no clue as to how to improve the odds. No wonder PR is stressful (and sometimes rewarding -- as there is that rush that comes from good PR outcomes, like a lucky spin at the roulette table).

Someday (let's be optimistic about 2012: starting this year) PR will get serious about research. Organizations will objectively document and scrutinize PR strategies and tactics and honestly assess what worked and what didn't. And in all transparency, they will share that knowledge with other PR practitioners. The goal -- within an individual organization and within the profession -- should be to accumulate data, draw objective observations and inferences, and share the insights openly, honestly, transparently.

Just think of all the stress PR people will avoid when research begins to give us a higher level of confidence about what works.