Column: PR-managers become impactful purpose managers

Happy 2023. We start the year with disruption because the company Open AI managed to achieve major international, textual, and technical successes with their invention ChatGPT. Google is terrified of losing their ranking with their search engine and with Chrome. The company has put entire teams to work, to come up with new products in just a few months. Microsoft and OpenAI are working on a version of Bing, powered by ChatGPT. Journalists and media professionals talk about the end of their professional existence. However, is that true? I can only smile because I do envision a possible scenario, in which the PR-manager will work more like a purpose manager. Let me explain.

Panic everywhere. We have known for some time now that artificial intelligence would take over our jobs, and that flexibility, adaptation, and mental resilience are indispensable factors to succeed in the labor market in the coming decades. However, now that there is ChatGPT, the AI-program seems to make all professionals who deal with text obsolete.

New turn

Journalists see that entire pages of well-running stories can be made by AI within ten seconds. Some even see that books like J.K. Rowling’s can come out in a jiffy. Experienced professionals see that data in Excel, for example, entire processes that took us weeks to focus on quality, are peanuts for an AI-product such as ChatGPT. Media professionals who, for example, spent a lot of time on so-called competitive analyses, communication pillars, and key messages are scratching themselves behind their ears because, now what since AI exists? I heard back from people saying that they will consider a career switch.

I can only smile when I should be panicking due to all that worry. Of course, it will affect me personally in my existence in the near future. It asks of me to remain alert and agile. Anyway, I have been prepared for years now, and I am actively working on a new turn of my business (more on that this year). One in which artificial intelligence does not take the lead, and we humans do – on artificial intelligence among other things.

Since 2012, I have been focused on people through studying philosophy, psychology, and spirituality. Admittedly, I have not been doing this because the monster of artificial intelligence is going to take over our world, but because it comes from a place of immense intrinsic motivation, conviction, and purpose.

Dissecting gray areas

For over a decade, I have been talking about why IQ (intelligence quotient) isn’t the most important aspect in working life at all. See in the case of ChatGPT that IQ can be worth nothing in the blink of an eye, all due to technological disruption. I have been supporting EQ (emotional quotient) to become more significant. As a professional, you can have great qualities and competences. But if you cannot maintain relationships, and do not have the so-called soft skills like empathy, you will not get ahead. Therefore, I have been advocating for SQ (spiritual quotient), which puts the central focus on why we do what we do. Making a profit is fine, but why are we doing something? Using a popular word, this is called purpose, more on that in a moment.

Furthermore, I have been arguing for years that we should have roles within organizations that help us dissect gray areas. In other words, areas where we have to make decisions, also due to the consequences of technological progress. We have to think about humanity and integrity, about intentions, attitude, and behavior. Ecosystems in business should focus on the personal growth of their people, so that people can lead a life of integrity.

Thinking about internal and external stakeholders, and especially about well-being. Thinking about reputation and complex connections between parts within the ecosystem and beyond. In summary, thinking about choices. See also my various articles on these topics via Boom Management.

Surrounded by the voices of the world

Let me summarize the developments in PR-land for you. Over the last decade, more and more PR-professionals have moved into PR, marketing, communications, and networking. In any case, the skilled professionals with an integrated agency approach. Many of those professionals use the so-called PESO-model of earned, owned, paid, and shared media. In other words, a great model to categorize all types of media.

Certainly since 2012, we have increasingly been dealing with marketing matters such as data-driven ways-of-working, Omnichannel approaches, leads, content in all forms and shapes, digital strategies, measurability, new networks to support sales, brand experiences, and so on, and so forth.

Sometimes, therefore less and less about corporate communication, so storytelling, relationship management, crisis management, and other work in which people were put first. Think of matters such as culture, mentality, intentions, attitude, behavior, inclusiveness, the beacons of cross-cultural communication, and so on. Things that I am completely obsessed with.

I even heard colleagues say that PR was dead, not only because they scored less, and the media landscape has thinned out considerably over the years. Also, because more and more databases and do-it-yourself-PR-packages were sold to companies.

But look, PR has never died for me, and has only grown internationally across all parts of the world that are Dutch-speaking, French-speaking and English-speaking (very occasionally German-speaking). Declaring that PR is dead is, in my opinion, a sign of a lack of professionalism and, above all, a lack of involvement. And no, PR has not just continued because I was working on substantive matters. It has been precisely the simplest ‘press release cannon projects’, in other words, textual activities, that continued.

Because storytelling is done in a certain way. Because journalists and the world are still receptive for news. Mainly because I have never used a database approach, but have personally built and maintained relationships with the press through blood, sweat, and tears (yes, usually with up to five times as much overtime, unfortunately) over almost twenty years.

Such an existence is a lifestyle; otherwise people would not be able to handle it, I can imagine. At least for me, it is, and with intrinsic motivation, in other words with fiery passion and belonging. I surround myself with ’the voices of the world’ because I am one myself. Because I myself still work as a journalist and author in completely different areas in terms of portfolio and themes than those I work on for clients. That is why I know what journalists are looking for.

Sometimes, it is less fun, as I have to solve relational issues. Small fires that also flare up among experienced professionals because this domain is and remains human work. And if journalists don’t like you, you’re out of luck. Fortunately, they do have me all the way to New York Times. Putting out small fires happens sporadically closer to home. Sometimes, perhaps because of an innate ‘label’, if I may be so transparent. You know: Jewish. Or simply, because of my personality, with the passion of a pit bull when I fight for my clients. I know, I know.

PR-results are trésors

That brings me to the statement that I have heard from media professionals, namely that marketing is leading and that communication and PR fall under marketing. Not that communication and PR as the main category is leading and drives marketing. Literally, since 2012, I have heard the majority of marketing professionals say this. Most people from the C-suite and the boards of companies do not know any better. After all, they hire a CMO or Head of Marketing and Communications, and they appoint these professionals to manage matters. In addition, all scientific studies have traditionally been organized in such a manner that everything is classified under the umbrella of marketing.

I did not find this technical discussion all that important. I always thought: think what you want to think. Titles mean very little to me. Once you have tasted a bit of the work, you will not want anything else. Almost magical. Worth Every Penny. But now that we are all suddenly panicked by the ChatGPTs of this world, this is getting interesting. Here is why:

First, we as a society have to admit that up to eighty percent (exaggerated gut feeling, yes) have no idea what communication and PR really mean. People always think of free publicity, so for example a nice interview in the Financial Times. If they understand a little bit more, then the necessary lobbying and a good story to make it happen.

Those who have made some progress speak of thought leadership, thus building a certain positioning, credibility and visibility through knowledge sharing. Publishing a strong opinion piece somewhere via the press, for example, on behalf of a (C+) representative of the company. All while we do the hard work behind the scenes – ghostwriting as it is called. Or speaking as an expert during a talk show on TV about the subject.

Still others think mainly of a way to generate traffic to their website and to bring in customers. Attention means presence, and hopefully that will translate into so-called conversion and sales.

The conscious among us think in terms of a business doctor who keeps matters such as reputation and stakeholders healthy, not only in the short term, but also in the long term. Now we are getting somewhere. And no, a business doctor is not synonymous with spin doctor. As far as I am concerned, ‘spin doctor’ as a term can fade into infinity of oblivion. Yikes.

What I have always explained when I was educating people is that everything I just mentioned is indeed part of what we are doing. But my work does not stop at these kinds of intermediate measurement points. I think ten or twenty years ahead.

Results that appear via the press are not seen as a company’s hygiene factor, such as properly maintaining your SEO or LinkedIn profile. It is also not judged as producing content for sales and other purposes. Press results are nothing but diamonds. Trésors, thus treasures in French! Because those results go through the so-called gatekeepers of the reviewing power. Sometimes even through investigative journalists, who are pure gold in this day and age. I respect them wholeheartedly. Really. Because I know how many of them sincerely want to find out the truth of matters.

These kinds of results leave all that (scoring, opportunistic and horrible) influencer marketing-esque crap far behind in terms of value. Value, not just in terms of media value or ROI (Return on Investment). After all, influencer marketing can often do much more in terms of ROI because all those influencers reach those target groups directly and encourage them to buy or do something. No, I mean qualitative, business value and long-term existence, without the company regretting the results at some point. A safe haven in terms of publicity.

In many years’ time, the PR-results will still be visible, at least if you let yourself be supported by professionals who know their stuff and do not buy do-it-yourself-PR-packages. Whereas everything marketing-materials disappears again and again, and is adapted to what is needed in the short term for the financial existence of a company, everything PR-results continues to exist indefinitely.

This means that if a company ends up having a major crisis which leaks out to the public, if the company has invested for years in a track record of information via the press, and in relationship management with all types of stakeholders in their so-called ‘umfelt’, they will not collapse immediately, and manage the crisis more easily.

This also means that if a company is ready for M&A or sale, if there is a track record via the press, the market value of the company will increase enormously. I can give strong examples from experience of how big the difference can be.

This means that all results via the press contribute to the long-term existence of a company or entrepreneur. By focusing on all those sub-objectives that support the greater purpose of money, and that have to do with the human factor. Ha – the ChatGPTs of this world cannot match that! And neither can other parts of marketing. Again – ha.

Celebrate this period

So dear PR-people, now marketing communication-people with PR as part of their duties: I will not deny that it will be challenging. I understand the panic. At the very least, I do feel uncomfortable. But celebrate this period. Because all those useless ‘content diarrhea players’ who call themselves specialists in digital marketing – OK, sometimes with perfect automation options and technological aspects that come with digital transformation, and that we cannot provide – are going to disappear. Hallelujah!

You know: those agencies that have raised tons of money from investors to disfavor storytellers and consultants, without proper pedigree. Just because they smelled money and think that capturing attention through screaming content is enough. Diarrhea because no one cares about what they make. We are in the lead. I will come back to that in a moment.

First, dear journalists. Calm down with the panic. Some are indeed going to have an incredibly difficult time, especially the trade media. I won’t deny that it will be difficult. But celebrate this period. Because the public / society still puts you on a pedestal when it comes to reliable information gathering. You remain the reviewing power. Your personal analyzes cannot be hijacked by the monster of artificial intelligence at all. You simply won’t allow that to happen, especially not you, investigative journalists.

Definitely not in a time of moral exaltation, of unacceptable behavior (rightly so) as one of the main themes in the public debate, and of all those themes that belong to a complex, changing, and globalizing world. The question becomes how you will continue to stay in charge of artificial intelligence, and not the other way around. Thus, how you are going to make AI work for you instead of against you. Anyway, whole groups of editorial staff are already on this topic, so they must have better ideas than me.

But then, dear, dear, dear artists. It will be the most difficult for you, especially when the work is not personally formed and is about fiction, for example. You were already supported the least during the pandemic. In the Netherlands, it is absolutely scandalous how little respect the domain of art and culture gets, and how we treat you in general. That actually calls for an essay in itself.

I am worried about you. I am actually one of you, forced to flee to the business alleys of storytelling to pay the bills. Many of you know that on a personal level. But I have pledged my heart to you forever. I think fondly of the roaring twenties and Parisians art scenes.

Dear audience, especially the artists need you badly. Everything depends on how willing you are to value and support the artistic blood, sweat, and tears. Celebrate this period by paying attention to this. Art is the gleam, beauty, and emotional life of our society. The human reflection. The soul’s conscience. The heartbeat of our history. Embrace it, with everything that you’ve got.

Keep your back straight

Back to why PR is in the lead. As needs little further explanation, it will be the task of corporate communication and PR to focus more than ever on putting people first. After all, people do business with people. Everything depends on relationships, well-being, and choices.

We know like no other how to compromise between all kinds of interests and solve complex cases. Then swallow hard when the umpteenth person does not understand how things work in our profession. Or thinks we are lunatics, completely underestimating us, and trying to make us responsible for matters that go wrong. I can now hear all those experienced fellow professionals laughing out loud due to the recognition. No matter how tough it will get in the upcoming period, let’s all keep our backs straight.

Because we are concerned with the why of companies and entrepreneurs like no other, in other words, with purpose. With integrity issues. With processes of considerations, when we are expected to smooth out something that is rotten – which is sometimes not possible and not allowed at all.

We have an eye for the connection between inside and outside the ecosystem, which results in difficult, strategic conversations with the C-suites. Sometimes, these form grueling meetings over a long period of time.

Juggling three hundred thousand different balls in the air because our tasks lead us from one thing to the next daily. Not only with a sense of justice, but above all with an eye for everyone’s psychological well-being during all that juggling. Sometimes, everyone’s psychological well-being except our own.

I can well imagine a scenario in which the PR-manager as we know the role to be, will increasingly be assigned a range of tasks that the purpose manager has in the near future. And for anyone who thinks that those tasks will be just as fluff as the tasks of (social media, web care, chat box or other) content rookies: that is not possible at all. Because what is required of someone who has to monitor a company’s business and purpose objectives is, at the very least, thoughtfulness and a sharp – sometimes fresh and always human – analysis.

And you know? There is nothing better than to have purpose being expressed by the sharpest creatives of our society. The spoken word artists, visual artists, theater makers, actors, musicians, writers, and so on. Our voices that are not only appreciated in the here and now, but leave imprints in our history. This is how the circle of responsibility and value creation come together. Hallelujah! In order for the ChatGPTs of this world to learn their place. Before it is too late. And action.

The Dutch version of this article was published by Frankwatching.