There is an active debate going on within the public relations community about the future of the profession. It is the kind of soul searching that we encourage our clients to do. It keeps brands fresh and makes sure they deliver what they promise.

The debate centers on how we perceive our brand and how we want others to perceive it. On one side we have people who see PR as publicity. Publicists are about who you know. They believe that being seen with the right people in the right places is what makes you influential, and that clients will pay for that kind of influence because it creates buzz and word of mouth.

On the other side we have people who see public relations as strategic counsel. Counselors are about what you know. They believe that their value is in their experience, wisdom and savvy. They perceive of themselves as trusted advisors to successful entrepreneurs and CEOs.

This debate got me to thinking about how the public perceives public relations. In the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Douglass Adams described how the people of the planet Golgafrincham decided to get rid of the useless third of their population. They told them the planet was about to be destroyed and they had to leave immediately. So they built a space ark and loaded up their middle men -- insurance salesmen, HR directors, management consultants, accountants, hairdressers, TV producers, marketing consultants and yes, public relations pros -- and blasted them into space. The useful people stayed on the planet, while the ship of fools eventually crash-landed on Earth, where the mediocre, useless Golgafrinchams mated with the cavemen and became our ancestors.

If this is how the public thinks of us, we have a big time branding problem. As the public relations profession continues to evolve, we have an opportunity to blend traditional approaches with new technology to create a brand that can be taken seriously. Mediocre and useless is unacceptable. It is time to ship the spin doctors into space and make a clear distinction between publicity and public relations.

OK, maybe I am being a little too judgmental, but if you want to be a self-promoting bimbo specializing in fluff, fine. Get on the ark. Bon voyage. The rest of us will stay here working on thoughtful approaches to complex problems for ethical clients contributing to a better society. Have a nice flight.

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