President Obama's glancing reference to "PR" in his State of the Union message last evening indicates the distance public relations has yet to span to be recognized, not as a glitzy technique, but as a disciplined communication process by many Americans. The President was talking about all it will take to insure that U.S. children will be educated for 21st century needs.
"We need to teach our kids," he said, "that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair; that success is not a function of fame or PR, but of hard work and discipline." The line drew some of the strongest applause of the evening.
Yet to mobilize the education system in the manner the President envisions, PR skills of planning, explanation, and perseverance ("hard work and discipline" indeed) will be needed in communities all across the nation. Success in that vital enterprise will be very much a function of public relations in its best sense.
Sure, PR can be practiced in a glitzy, self-serving manner and too often is. But that's not the core of the craft. Relational skills, communication awareness, strategic vision, the ability to mobilize understanding and support—all capped by the effective spending of taxpayer dollars—are what PR, and the challenge the President outlined, are about.
We suspect President Obama knows that full well. His reliance on PR skills in a social media context were a big part of what brought him to the White House.
Maybe the President's "PR" reference last night was too fleeting to be noticed by many listeners. But professional PR practitioners likely heard it and should keep recalling it as they work to show how indispensable they are to meeting the President's—and the nation's—worthy goals.