Why people stick around

Tony Hunn, who masterminds all things technological at Chelgate, has just completed his 10th year at Chelgate. Amazingly, more than half the Chelgate team have now been with the firm for a decade or more. In an industry notorious for its flea-like job hopping, it’s truly extraordinary to find such a high level of “stickability”
So, what’s happening? Why on earth do they stay? It’s certainly nothing to do with the Chairman, who’s notably curmudgeonly, demanding and difficult.
In fact, I think I know why. It’s because of the jobs they are actually asked to do at Chelgate. When someone goes into PR, they usually do so because they want to do good work; to be an outstanding public relations professional. But the depressing truth is that in all too many PR firms – perhaps even most – the priority has shifted. It’s no longer about doing outstanding work for the client. It’s about maximising profit margins for the firm. So, the “product” becomes the chargeable hour, not the delivery of client service. The time sheet culture takes over, and people begin to forget why they are there in the first place.
Of course any half decent PR executive wants to work for a successful and prosperous employer. And they celebrate their firm’s successes and rue its setbacks. But the reason they went into PR in the first place was not to make their employers rich. It was to be the best PR professionals they could be. The success of their firm may be the welcome result and measure of their first class work. But it was never the primary objective.
When PR firms forget this; when they put profits ahead of professionalism; when they suffocate and dishearten their team by switching focus from client service to business profits, then it’s little surprise that their frustrated and disillusioned staff members develop itchy feet.
At Chelgate, every member of the team knows that their first priority, always, must be the quality of our professional service to clients. We believe that if we get that right, the rest (including the profits!) will follow. And because this is what they went into PR to do, I think that just might be why Chelgate people stick around. Here in this firm, whatever the other privations and hardships, they are at least able to be the professionals they want to be.

Class wars and PR smears

Gordon Brown’s “playing fields of Eton” swipe at David Cameron has generated almost febrile excitement at the prospect of a class warfare strategy for the election. But generally overlooked in the same exchange was his other attempted smear: that Cameron speaks with “the voice of a modern public relations man” .
The depressing fact is that the PM knows his pantheon of prejudice. He knows that PR people – worse, “modern” PR people, are right up there alongside estate agents, used car salesmen, old Etonians and, these days of course, bankers. Though a politician sneering at a public relations man does rather bring pots and kettles rattling to mind.
But Brown knows his beans. He knows that , for a large part of his audience, public relations is a dark art, dishonest, deceptive, manipulative, and too clever by half.
Of course they are wrong. But nobody is saying so.
It’s time that PR people – real PR people, that is, not propagandists, “spinners” , press agents and publicists – stood up for our profession, and explained what we do.
Real PR is a force for good. It benefits society, business and the public in general. Real PR is dedicated to enhancing relationships between organisations and their publics. Real PR understands that good relationships require good communications. This means listening as well as talking, because if you don’t listen , you’re certainly not going to be able to communicate. It also means communicating with honesty and integrity, because trust has to lie at the heart of any good relationship, and if you mislead and consistently lie to the other party in your relationship – whether you’re a business or an individual – you’ll destroy any trust and poison your relationship. Good PR recognises that, and acts accordingly.
Good PR also recognises that what business does, how it behaves, is central to its public relations. If an organisation behaves dishonestly, irresponsibly, insensitively or with gross greed in its relationships with any of its key publics, it will undermine the very relationships it should be nourishing. So PR at the highest level has to involve not just corporate communications but corporate behaviour too. Responsible, decent, generous and honourable behaviour. And the “voice of the modern public relations man” should be a welcome voice, because he understands what it takes to build and sustain a relationship.
But if truthful, honest communications and honourable, responsible behaviour are what modern public relations is about, then perhaps it becomes easier to understand why politicians like Gordon Brown seem to be so out of sympathy with the profession.
Terence Fane-Saunders