Advocacy Thought Leadership

Challenges Facing Public Relations in 2013…Demand for Accountability Will Rise

Editor’s note: This is the 1st in a series of 12 guest posts from industry thought leaders predicting key trends that will impact the public relations industry in 2013. Hosted under the hashtag #PRin2013, the series began Jan. 7, 2013, with a compilation post previewing some of the predictions.

In looking back over the past 12 months, one challenge comes through loud and clear for those of us charged with shepherding the communication process for our client or employer in the coming year…that of accountability.

PRSA presented a revised definition of the term “public relations” in early 2012 that reads: “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

Inherent in this statement is the responsibility of the public relations professional not only to provide expert guidance and counsel but also to help foster a sense of trust and confidence in the organization that he or she represents.

This isn’t a responsibility that can be shunted to another area of the organization…it rightfully belongs in the public relations arena. We are, or should be, the guide on what to say, how to say it, and how to publicly demonstrate that we mean what we say.

As we approached the end of 2012 and drew nearer to the threatened “fiscal cliff,” public scrutiny focused more intently on the communication of the situation…the words being used to deflect criticism and shift the blame.

The 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer reports a significant decline in the public’s belief that not only government, but business and NGOs as well, cannot be relied on to deliver on promises…are not accountable for their actions (or lack thereof).

Others talk of “effective use of media, both traditional and social,” to reach stakeholder audiences with our messaging. But “reaching” is meaningless if the public’s perception is that the purveyor of the message has no real intention of carrying through on promises.

Our challenge in 2013 will be to counter the predispositions of distrust and skepticism…to help our client or employer come to a realization that what is said or done not only is seen but also is perceived as reality by those who have a vested interest in our activities.

We can’t moan that “we want our life back” when something goes terribly amiss. Nor can we point fingers at others.

Rather, we…as public relations professionals providing counsel…must be willing and able to take a firm stand and urge/press our client or employer to accept responsibility and be held accountable.

The New Year represents new opportunity for us to step up and deliver on our promise to “conduct [ourselves] professionally, with truth, accuracy, fairness, and responsibility to the public.” And, at the same time, it remains our greatest challenge.

About the author

Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA

Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA, is Associate Professor of Communication (Undergraduate) at Curry College in Milton, MA. Prior to his move into academia, Kirk practiced nonprofit and government public relations and marketing for more than 35 years in the US as well as Asia. Accredited by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), Kirk was inducted into PRSA’s prestigious College of Fellows in 2009 and is one of just two actively-teaching college professors in Massachusetts to have earned this distinction. You can read more of Kirk’s musings at his blog “A Professor’s Thought” and follow him on Twitter @KirkHazlett.


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