PR ‘Professional’ or ‘Practitioner’?

A Guest Post By Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA

I’ve wanted to talk about this for eons. It’s something that started bugging me back in my internship days and continues to do so 40 years later.

In my mind, there are two types of people who work in our line of business. There are the “practitioners” and there are the “professionals.”

A student will occasionally ask me why I make this distinction…often to the dismay of those classmates’ who have studied with me before because they know I’m going off on a side road that could easily eat up half an hour.

Ride with me on this one, though.

“Practitioners,” to me, are those folks who have learned the tactics and techniques of the public relations “business.” They are skilled writers. They are talented media relations experts. They are adept at taking the raw materials of a client’s specialty area and turning them into communication tools that effectively promote that client’s business.

They’re the technicians who make sure that the nuts-and-bolts of the client’s communication programs are up to snuff.

“Professionals,” on the other hand, do this and so much more. They also fully comprehend and embrace the nuances of our craft, and they are prepared with advice and counsel to steer the client through to success.

They are the pathfinders who share the client’s vision and offer guidance that helps prepare in advance for situations that oftentimes have not yet bubbled to the surface.

Now, before you go looking for stones to throw at me, let me be clear…I’m not suggesting that practitioners are “inferior.” Quite the contrary; the great majority of them are outstanding examples of our craft. But their focus is on the product, and they “get the job done.”

Once that “job” has been done, though, they move on to the next “job”…kind of like a carpenter finishes one home repair project and moves on to the next. Useful service provided, but no depth.

On the other side of the fence is the professional, who is also quite capable of providing all the skills and services of the practitioner but takes the role to a higher level by guiding the client along a path to more effective and efficient communication with stakeholders.

One…the practitioner…offers the microscopic…close-up/here-and-now…view of the client’s needs. The other…the professional…offers the telescopic…long-distance/future…view as well.

Each fills a valuable role, and each meets its particular clients’ needs. But…as I often challenge my students: “How serious are you in your desire to be a member of the profession of public relations? How important is it to you that you hold yourself to a higher standard of service to clients and their publics?”

Public relations, to me, is a strategic counseling function that helps clients look into the future and identify courses of action that will enable them to move forward successfully meeting the needs, wants, and desires of their stakeholders while also fulfilling corporate goals.

The public relations professional fulfills this valuable mission.

Hazlett_KirkcKirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA, is Associate Professor of Communication (Undergraduate) at Curry College in Milton, MA. He also is Visiting Lecturer, Organizational and Professional Communication (Graduate), at Regis College in Weston, MA. Prior to his move into academia, Kirk practiced nonprofit and government public relations and marketing for more than 35 years in the US as well as Asia. Accredited by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), Kirk is a former member of PRSA’s national Board of Directors and has held leadership positions with PRSA Educators Academy and PRSA Northeast District as well as with the Boston and Hawaii PRSA chapters.