Somewhere along the line, we forgot to put the "public" back into PR. I'm reading a book called the Fame Formula by Mark Borkowski, one of the UK's leading public relations practitioners. His stellar list of clients (past and present) includes Van Morrison, Joan Rivers, Cirque du Soleil and Michael Jackson. The book discusses the history of the fame making machinery behind some of Hollywood's greatest celebrities - beginning with the roots of modern day PR which had its beginnings in the early days of vaudeville and the motion picture industry.
Borkowski yearns for the days when public relations meant more than the masking of corporate messages behind well-trained and well-groomed spokespeople. To achieve fame in the old days, you had to use a combination of creativity and wit to build and maintain your place in the public eye. Agents representing vaudeville acts were known for their wild stunts that drew in audiences to see their prize acts. Mavericks such as P.T. Barnum made spectacular use of the media of the day by creating stories about his upcoming acts then bombarded the newspapers with letters to create sufficient buzz. Were the stories always truthful? Not necessarily. But at least they weren't boring.
The truly successful PR practitioners aren't afraid to use a little showmanship to sell their story. Look at Richard Branson's tactics as he flies into cities doing wild promos to sell his latest product or service. Some would say his methods are tacky. I say they're brilliant because any true practitioner knows that there's no such thing as bad PR.
To make our mark in this world we have to be more creative in getting our message out. There are so many new forms of media, that it takes a skillful practitioner to determine the best strategy for our content. As we move forward in time, let's not forget the lessons to be learned from the old. And let's make an effort to be less boring.
Barnum said that "I don't believe in duping the public, but I believe in first attracting and then pleasing them." A lesson learned for any PR practitioner looking to make a mark on the world.