Skipping over, for a moment, that PR as a term may be dying a natural death, an industry icon spoke last Friday to a collection of communicators at the 2017 IPREX Annual Meeting in Brussels about opportunity.

Paul Holmes of the Holmes Report mesmerized a room full of agency owners from around the world with his belief that PR can win the epic battle with marketing, advertising and branding firms and that small and mid-sized regional independent firms working from a common platform can beat monolithic multinationals.

It was an energizing and motivating presentation. He may have simply been addressing his audience of the day (small and mid-sized independent agency owners) as some colleagues speculated. Regardless, he spoke from experience and with an informed perspective. A few highlights:

Holmes reminded us that we’re in the people business and that great people attract great clients. He’s spot on. He shared that firms like those in IPREX offer a stronger value proposition because we are more focused on the client and their success than supporting (feeding) a large corporate infrastructure.

What stuck with me most was Holmes’ recitation of his five qualities of a great PR firm. They are worth remembering:

  1. Courage: Great PR firms have the courage to give the right advice regardless of what a client wants to hear. And, great PR firms have the courage to not work with clients who suck (anyone in the professional services business gets this).
  2. Curiosity: Great PR firms are filled with people with an insatiable curiosity to learn more – to learn new things to enable them to be in touch with society and its trends.
  3. Empathy (emotional intelligence): Great PR firms are filled with people who have empathy – the ability and desire to understand people and their circumstance who are “not like me.” He referred to them as people seeking relationships built on a degree of mutuality.
  4. Ability to improvise: Great PR firms are those that can change, respond, react and decide quickly. This requires a trust relationship with clients and confidence that you understand what’s happening which, in turn, requires courage, curiosity and empathy.
  5. Integrity: Great PR firms do not spin. They are built on relationships, not transactions. They speak truth to power.

I like Holmes’ five qualities. I agree with them. I also agree that advances in technology are driving a convergence of the ways people consume information and clients are becoming increasingly agnostic to what a firm calls itself so long as it can deliver meaningful and measurable results.

I sense that Paul Holmes may be hanging on to the term PR a bit too firmly. Regardless, that perception should not confuse the truth of his experience and the strength of his words about what we do for our clients.

It matters little to me whether PR as a term survives. It matters greatly that we continue to operate and grow on a foundation of courage, curiosity, empathy and integrity and remain flexible enough to meet the needs of our clients.