Saturday, September 17, 2016

Seeing the Sunny Side of PR

Although I’m not usually one to name drop, I have to share that Justin Trudeau helped me in my bachelor of public relations class this semester.

PM Justin Trudeau
“I’m not sure how to explain what PR is to my friends and family,” said a second-year Humber College BPR student on the first day of class, earlier this month.  This came after I asked the strategic communications planning class to define public relations.

While most students successfully identified the core concepts of PR – strategic, two-way communication, of mutual benefit to an organization and its publics – they weren’t really sure how to express these concepts as a field of practice to which their community of family and friends could relate.

We considered the differences between advertising and PR.  While advertising is everywhere, foisted on us in all manner of vehicles, sneaking up on us on Facebook, camouflaged in advertorials, grabbing us on television, PR takes a different tack. PR is nuanced. To capture the essence of the PR sensibility, I guided the students to one of Aesop’s fables, cited in a decade-old business book, The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR .  

The story is of a contest between the sun and wind encouraging a traveller to shed his coat.  The sun’s warmth prevailed over the bustling wind, analogous to the subtlety of the PR approach versus the bullhorn of advertising. While I’ve used this story in the past, often reading the one-page text aloud to the students, I was never really certain that the story resonated.

This semester was different.  To hammer the point home, I turned to Justin Trudeau’s sunny political approach.

During his election campaign, Trudeau frequently invoked the term “sunny ways”, channeling former PM Sir Wilfred Laurier,
Sir Wilfred Laurier
who overtly referenced Aesop’s fable of the sun and the wind.  One media report cited Laurier: “Do you not believe that there is more to be gained by appealing to the heart and soul of men rather than by trying to compel them to do a thing?” I was encouraged to see Trudeau adopting Laurier’s sunny approach, political or otherwise, and I shared this with my BPR class.

The following week, a student reported to me that, over the weekend, a relative inquired about his studies and he shared the sun and wind fable.  The story did the job. My student was pleased and I had the satisfaction of knowing something was learned.

So, thank you Justin Trudeau, and our political forefather Sir Wilfred Laurier, for modeling effective PR. And thank you Aesop, for your fable.  The role of PR is clearer, and shines brighter, as a result.

How do you define PR?