NOTE: This is an expanded transcript of Brown’s acceptance speech on the occasion of his November 2, 2017 induction into the Order of the Phoenix and the PRSA Georgia Hall of Fame.
Lori [Billingsley of The Coca-Cola Company] and Dr. [Bryan] Reber [of Grady School at The University of Georgia], it is a spectacular honor to join this esteemed group. My PRSA Georgia friends, I thank you profoundly. I also owe a lifetime of gratitude to God and my family: That’s my mom, dad, brother, sister-in-law and partner sitting with Carol Cookerly and our talented firm – and I’m thrilled you’re all here tonight for a sold-out celebration of the best campaigns in our industry from the past year.
You’ve given me a stage and a podium – you know me too well! – and I’d be crazy on this occasion not to indulge in some timely observations and a bit of timeless advice.
It’s telling that this was the year of the great eclipse – because that obscured orb was an apt cautionary metaphor for a PR profession raging against the proverbial dying of the light.
It’s becoming all too casual to forsake the PR forbearers who brought us to this dance. With a simple quip such as, “I don’t really do that much PR these days,” we’re telegraphing that PR is second fiddle. In the strictest sense, everything we do to advance our organizations’ cause or to preserve its reputation is, in fact, PR. As an industry, we’ve fought tirelessly to be at the executive table – and all too easily we’ll hobble its legs for momentary gain. Why, with the rigor of our research, the strength of our strategy, the superiority of our storytelling, the credibility of our content and the moxie of our measurement, would we want to be considered anything else but proud PR professionals implementing a time-honored process to effect change? Folks, don’t let anyone put baby in the corner.
Each of you is a guardian ensuring our industry doesn’t recede into recklessness or get sideswiped by sensationalism. When we see our field marginalized by opportunists or – worse still – misappropriated by proprietors of half-truths, we must stand up and hold our PRSA Code of Ethics as a bright beacon.
We should rally with the authenticity and accreditation PRSA offers to stand taller than any other discipline, harness big data and digital dashboards to be more agile than ever. While others are checking the box, we must creatively think outside of it. We must stay true to our values to showcase integrity. And we must stick to the facts to preserve civil discourse.
The advice I impart from my ongoing journey in this beloved profession is to “stay curious, stay connected.” I’ve posted [this blog] to share 20 tips I’ve picked up in the past 20 years [they’re below!]. Consider these my cabinet of curiosities, a compendium of the findings from my time in an explorer’s club with the greats. Some of my axioms are practical (“Never write a media pitch that takes up more than one screen of a journalist’s smartphone”) and many rooted in passion (“Be a brand ambassador and avid user of your organization or client’s own products or services.”) My journey has led me to vigorously engage in the community. There are cherished friends in this room I would never have met if it weren’t for the extracurriculars – kickball, improv, soccer, mission trips, charities, arts groups and, of course, volunteering for PRSA Georgia.
Staying curious and staying connected are ways we can sharpen the distinctiveness of our profession. The hard work everyone in this room does all year is on magnificent display tonight, so congratulations to each of you for being second to none. Let’s all make sure we don’t miss a single day to showcase why our profession is second to no one.
20 tips for success from Stephen’s first 20 years in the PR industry
- Feed your mind: hone your intellectual curiosity with a book, art or performance (The best ideation comes from people who can mash up themes from a Puccini opera with what they just read on BuzzFeed or describe a hockey game with allusions to Asian history)
- Know your home turf: learn the history of your town – and be the best tour guide any out-of-towner could imagine (my first networking goal in Atlanta was to meet at least one person from each of the top ten companies)
- Write what you know: maintain a blog or curate a social media platform about something you love
- Tune your craft: get accredited and engage in lifelong learning (the APR designation paid off for me last month with a new client)
- Get up close and personal: be a brand ambassador and avid user of your organization’s or client’s own products or services
- Be a trend resource: reach out to a journalist with a hot tip even when it offers you no immediate benefit
- Work in partnership on big ideas: be the brainstorm maven who says “yes, and” instead of “no” or “yes, but” – and consider unexpected collaborators from different walks of life for best results
- Channel your inner Lincoln and Douglas: be able to articulate the counter argument to nearly anything to anticipate what you’re up against, especially in dealing with issues or anticipating tough questions
- Break out of your bubble: join a social media network you haven’t tried, and experiment to find out how to activate the platform for your brand
- Get in the thick of things: join a community team or a volunteer organization (yes, kickball and improv count!)
- Play in all the sandboxes: make sure you’ve incorporated paid, earned, shared and owned channels in your campaign recommendations
- Pair prose and pictures: in an increasingly global and time-constrained news cycle, always ask what visual goes with your words
- Amplify your surroundings: be the one who tweets out pithy findings from a training conference or professional development event for the good of your peers, who takes photos your team can use for internal communications
- Pace your news: don’t put a news release out before you’ve had a chance to land an embargoed, deep-dive exclusive; and when you do float a new idea to someone, hold a little bit back so you’ll have something more to talk about
- Keep it simple and straightforward: never write a media pitch that takes up more than one screen of a journalist’s smartphone
- Be the one who answers back: make sure every polite PR student or job seeker in our field gets an informational interview with your company or a friend’s organization (cost for entry to my consultation is that you’ve already identified the 5-10 places where you’d work)
- Teach people your ways: pass your high-level talent along to someone else at universities, nonprofits and professional organizations
- Keep grounded in both the past and the future: mentor and be mentored
- Dive into data: digital tools are the single greatest invention of our lifetime in the profession and blaze the pathway for PR to “own the brief” on any brand
- Constantly reinvent and improve: reject the mundane and imagine the possibilities, and you’ll never be bored in the field of PR