It Takes More Than a Clean Shirt
Unveiling the Complexities of Public Relations
Tom Rath: "I don’t know anything about public relations."
Bill Hawthorne: "Who does? You’ve got a clean shirt and you bathe every day. That’s all there is to it."
“The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit” is a 1956 American drama film based on the 1955 novel of the same name by Sloan Wilson. The film focuses on Tom Rath, a young World War II veteran attempting to reconcile his marriage and family life with the demands of a new job, all while grappling with the emotional residue of his war service.
In the film, Tom Rath, portrayed by Gregory Peck, is essentially advised that a "clean shirt" is the most vital asset for a career in public relations. (Unfortunately, the pertinent clip has been removed from YouTube.)
Contrary to the simplistic view propagated by this classic film, Public Relations extends far beyond the rudimentary hygiene practices of wearing a clean shirt and bathing regularly—though these do matter.
Public relations is a profession that ethically identifies, develops, and creates strategies to communicate the key messages of a client. Just like any other profession, from appliance repair to law, it serves as a useful, indeed indispensable, cog in the business wheel.
The Public Relations Society of America defines it as a 'strategic communication process.' The aim is to build beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.
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In simpler terms, if you're running a business or heading an organization that requires engagement with an audience, you have a message. This could be about a product, service, organization, or cause. There are also a multitude of avenues to convey this message: television, radio, blogs, micro-blogs, podcasts, and publications.
I believe that initiating a conversation between those outside the industry and professionals like us—who do more than just show up in clean shirts—could be a meaningful starting point for improvement.
So, I invite you to leave your thoughts in the comments. What are your impressions of "PR," for better or worse?
I’m eager to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly.