Nelson Algren wrote about a guy who made money up and down Chicago's Division Street by finding lost dogs and collecting rewards. Sounds pretty labor intensive until you understand that he was the one who stole the dogs in the first place.
Is that what your job seems like sometimes? Stealin' dogs and gettin' paid to find 'em?
Well, it shouldn't feel that way all the time. Especially if it's a job like PR or communication, that don't pay too good. Doin' a job like that, you ought to feel like you're doin' some good in the world.
What's the useful social purpose of PR? A couple Fridays ago, Shel Holtz, PR professor Bill Sledzik and I were kicking it all around in Sledzik's office at Kent State University.
As is my annoying habit, I was bemoaning the dearth of philosophical, moral and intellectual thinkers in the communication business these days. When I was a boy, I said, there were giants in this industry: practitioners like the late Chester Burger and Mike Emanuel, writers like Roger D'Aprix and the late Pat Jackson, who helped communicators understand the ideal and the real function of their work in a healthy society.
That's kind of important. Because without an independent sense of your purpose, all you'll ever be is a tool for the goon you're working for this week.
Shel could tell I was just beginning to get cranked up, and he smiled patiently and shifted his weight, as choir members do when being preached to.
Sledzik interrupted me by quoting Jackson on the overarching purpose of our work: "Public relations enables individuals to participate in decisions that affect their lives."
Oh. Right. Well. As long as we're all clear on that, then I guess we don't need any more philosophers.
The problem is we're not all clear on that. And as a matter of fact, the concept hasn't occurred to many of us.
So if that's not what you're doing in this world—and PR is not what I'm doing; I'm just a humble storyteller, which is an old and honorable trade, but only as moral as the storyteller's own heart—what will you tell your maker or your children when they ask what exactly you did for your fellow human beings on this earth?
Cuz I'm afraid stealing dogs and collecting rewards is going to sound a little silly.