You can’t examine the life of a shark from just looking at where the fin breaks the water

Sharkteeth PRSA Houston is a great organization that frequently challenges my thoughts on Public Relations.  Many of their events force me out of my comfort zone, and that is all good. Yesterday’s event was presented by Marti Gazzier of BP on the crisis response to the Texas City explosion March 23, 2005.

I am not writing about that.

Rather I am writing about a sidebar conversation. I was in a group of people and three of the APR professionals were discussing books they had read, recommending others.  Tipping Point, The World is Flat, Ewen’s PR!; these are pretty standard these days.  I would even call them baseline for strategic thinking.  And then one young person spoke up and said something to the affect of:

All we read are the trade rags.  Those books sound interesting.  Can you email me a list of recommended reading?

No cards were exchanged so this was an empty request regardless.  The conversation above was followed by talking to someone in the media who was switching to public relations from being a reporter.  But in conversation they never read any books on the topic of PR apparently just assuming that “hey I was media so how hard can this be?”  I was direct enough to question this and the response was "I am just getting started."

I was trying to think about how to explain what was so very wrong with this approach and all I could come up with was this was like trying to get an accurate picture of the life of a shark by only looking at where the fin breaks the surface.  That is the stuff in the PR journals and in the media.  The fin.  The stuff that sticks up. But watching just the fin skips over the hunting process, migration, evolution, and shark-fish-are-friends support groups (Finding Nemo anyone?) that constitute the daily strategic life of the shark.  This small world view misses the subtleties of different shark species.  To look only at the fin on the surface is NOT representative of the life of a shark and will lead you to believe it is a gentle kind creature that exists to entertain you with pretty ripples in the water! 

If the output is what you are looking at to gain an understanding of public relations then I believe you will be wildly off the mark.  Read and research.  Study and strategize.  Do your home work.  It is not about sending press releases and making phone calls.  Reread Propaganda.  Challenge yourself with finding the great strategy that will generate word of mouth and press coverage.  But whatever you do, do NOT mistake a fin for a shark.