The public relations industry has never been closer to being what it was always meant to be, according to Fleishman Hillard global CEO John Saunders. Speaking at the International Communications Consultancies Organisations (ICCO) Global Summit in Dublin, Saunders said he is now frequently told by clients that PR has never been more important than it is today, and impacts on every decision they make: "Time and again I hear that the work we do for our clients is essential. In my opinion our profession is in a very good place".
In a bullish speech, Saunders said the shift in consumer expectations of business, in particular the requirement for businesses to take a stand on social and political issues, was a major driver of PR's strong position: "It's harder and harder to remain neutral. Even if a company wants to stay neutral they should at least be prepared if they are forced to take a stand, and helping them is squarely in PR's wheelhouse. There's a terrific opportunity to elevate our role: we're now brand navigators. It's what PR was always meant to be: we're guiding companies through how they are going to act, not just messaging and channels".
Saunders referenced P&G chief marketing officer Marc Pritchard speaking to the Holmes Report in August, when Pritchard said: "There used to be a lot of discussion about having a seat at the table. But I hear that less, because more PR pros are grabbing the wheel and showing their creative brilliance". And he said there was no 'silver bullet' for public relations: "Advertising is fundamentally changing and the advertising world is in turmoil trying to come to grips with everything from how to price media buying to how the ad world deals with Google and Facebook. All over the place I see people looking for a silver bullet for PR too. There is no silver bullet. Whether you are independent or part of a holding company, the firms that win are the ones with the best talent".
On the ongoing debate of whether the PR industry needs to find another way of describing itself, Saunders said: "I'm OK with being called a PR guy. It will be very difficult to come up with something that sticks better with clients and the public".