Working Towards Incremental Respect For PR

Judy Gombita and incremental respect for PRThis post is by guest blogger, Judy Gombita, co-editor of PR Conversations and a senior/hybrid public relations,communication management and social media specialist. Please join us to explore “Towards Incremental Respect” on the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz this Friday, June 15, at 5pm BST/12pm ET/9am PT.

The art (and science) of communication

Back in the 1980s, high-school English teacher, Mrs. Fielding, drew a memorable analogy about two iconic Canadian literary figures: established author Margaret Lawrence and the emerging Margaret Atwood. Both were equally important, but for very different literary styles and impact.

Margaret Lawrence

Margaret Lawrence was the consummate water colour artist (think of Impressionists) who slowly, deliberately and wondrously created a canvas and characters with little dabs of subtle colours and shadings, filling in all aspects of her creations with scenarios and people—not always immediately recognised or understood. Mrs. Fielding declared Lawrence’s novels should be revisited every 10 years as we’d react differently to characters and circumstances, depending upon our current age and experiences; appreciation would be enhanced with long-term study and reflection.

Another pertinent point: Lawrence’s fictional Manitoba town and its inhabitants make an appearance in all of her novels, so her entire output should be read for maximum impact.

Margaret Atwood

Literary critic, poet and novelist Margaret Atwood is a different kettle of creator. Think radical and modern artist, favouring vivid oil paint squiggles and slashes, interspersed with pools of blacks and browns. Although strokes are bigger and bolder (maybe the metaphorical canvas is larger in size), her focus is limited to a few main characters, rather than an entire town, per Lawrence. Atwood’s writing tends to have an immediate and forceful impact.

Atwood pushes boundaries, raising the literary bar and inventing new tropes. Topics such as dystopia capture attention and challenge. She’s an artist that’s hard to ignore with her compelling worlds we often marvel at and admire.

The connection to PR

So what do the Margarets have to do with an incremental respect for a company’s public relations function?

I propose Margaret Lawrence’s style is akin to corporate PR, whereas “sister” Margaret Atwood aligns with the marketing discipline. Lawrence remains important but is less recognised and possibly stereotyped as old-fashioned and dull—not all appreciate her subtlety woven tales, especially in a fast-paced world of shock and awe.

Atwood’s style and reputation is recognised and lauded…similar to marketing’s goals and objectives, particularly in B2C companies who entice customers with exciting, often bold, branding and ad campaigns.

Like a Lawrence novel, PR involves a wider cast of stakeholders (unlike marketing’s consumer focus) and many important connections are one-to-one over aggregate (unlike market research). Think of the important internal public, as an example: employees.

When a company is under the microscope (especially during a crisis), relationships promoted by public relations receive scrutiny for honesty and if they are in the “public” not just corporate interest. Think about the BP oil spill and the company’s relationship with workers, media, communities it impacted, US government environmental regulators, etc.

The three pillars of focus

My writing focuses on the strategic—the “why?” and “what”—involved in reputation and issues management for public relations, with fairly universal application. I’ve adopted the tweetable Terry Flynn shorthand for a three-pillar definition:

  • reputation
  • value
  • relationship building

During #KaizenBiz I’d like to focus on reputation, value and relationship building rather than stereotypes and turf wars re: tactics and ownership (e.g., “spin,” “black hats,” PR standing for Press Release and/or limited to marketing PR). Let’s also avoid the idea that PR is solely determined by “third-party” validation/earned media, whether traditional or social media properties and scribes.

Colleague Sean Williams declares, “All marketing is communication, but not all communication is marketing.” For 60 minutes, let’s tease out an understanding of effective non-marketing communication and connections to incrementally improve a company’s reputation, value and relationship building.

Great public relations

The PR Conversations’ PRoust Questionnaire asks, “Who do you think has great public relations?” Italian PR guru Toni Muzi Falconi:

“In most cases successful organisations do not have overt public visibility. Or, when they do have a high profile, they don’t betray their anxiousness or obsessive need to be liked.”

If you accept Toni’s answer, the way to achieve effective public relations may lie in trying not to have a high organisational profile, at least from a negative POV—not to be confused with accessibility and/or frequent and honest communications to stakeholders (with needs or interests).

And, like a Margaret Lawrence novel, consider how various stakeholders can shade and subtly influence an “organisational narrative.”


  1. Which stakeholders potentially have the greatest positive impact on an organisation’s reputation? Why?
  2. Which stakeholders potentially have the greatest negative impact on an organisation’s reputation? Why?
  3. What incremental PR best practices would help to increase the positive and decrease the negative impact on reputation?
  4. From your perspective, name a stakeholder group and indicate what is valued in companies from a (non-product or service) PR point of view?
  5. How can an organisation subtly communicate or weave these value propositions into its narrative?
  6. Think outside the traditional relationship-building box: with which groups could or should an organisation pursue a relationship?

About the author: Judy Gombita has more than 20 years of communication management and public relations experience, primarily in the not-for-profit and educations sectors. Now a hybrid public relations and social media practitioner, she is currently the co-editor of the highly respected international group blog,  PR Conversations and has been the Canadian contributor since the blog was launched in 2007. PR Conversations was named a Cision Top 50 blog. You can also find Ms. Gombita’s primary blog appearing in Bulldog Reporter’s Daily ‘Dog Blogs (also since 2008) and it is frequently included in’s Top Blogs. She also writes a monthly Bytes from the PR Sphere column on Windmill Networking (about the intersection of public relations and social media).

If the above #kaizenbiz chat topic interests you, Judy recommends you read her organizational narrative post and her co-editor, Heather Yaxley‘s companion digital/social media version one. Recommended reading from Windmill Networking includes her introductory post, Connections Byte, Profile Byte, Employee Byte, Culture Byte, Social Capital Byte and Crisis Byte.


2 thoughts on “Working Towards Incremental Respect For PR

  1. The hallmark, I think for all of us, if a great concept, service or product is the same. And its visceral. Happening so fast as it fires across the neuron connectors throughout our brains – that we don’t often catch it. But we recognize it when we’re reminded. “Why didn’t I think of that?” “Its so simple. So right. So obvious”

    Its what we all think when we connect to something new that makes sense in a way it hadn’t before. And when that happens it stimulates a need for it. And with the need a desire to have it for ourselves.

    In a reputation economy relationships become the transactional value of choice.

    The 3 pillars of focus values and those 5 critical questions above do the same thing to and for me. Crystalizes. Clarifies. Making me want to have that kind of PR in place for myself. And pass on to those people and businesses I’m close to and want to see grow more dynamically.

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