PR Legend: Doug Spong


This post is part of The Plank Center’s Legacies from Legends in PR Series that was begun in recognition of the 40th Anniversary of the Public Relations Student Society of America in 2007.Doug Spong 2014

Founder and president of Spong. Prior to creating Spong, Doug was the senior VP at Colle+McVoy. He has held key leadership positions with PRSA and the Council of Public Relations Firms. Doug has been awarded a number of the industry’s highest individual honors, including the PRSA Gold Anvil for lifetime achievement and the SABRE Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement from the Holmes Group, among others.

I was born for a career in public relations. As an incoming college freshman, I simply wanted to write for a living. By the time I graduated, I chose to make the news that others reported versus report the news that others made.

Fast forward 30-some years. It’s funny what you learn from experience in this profession. For the most part, experience is an asset. However, if there’s one bit of advice to offer, it’s this: Experience can be the enemy of change.

The world around us changes too fast and too furiously to rely on precedence and history alone. Experience can be a liability as you seek to identify, understand and apply the merits of change to your practice of public relations.

Cable TV, satellite TV, personal computers, the Internet and all channels social were invented since I earned my undergraduate degree in 1981. Think I could predict all this change? Not a chance. Past experience offered little-to-no guidance in navigating the evolving world and, specifically, the public relations profession.

You don’t need to be a futurist or trends forecaster to reap the rewards of change. You need three things to succeed no matter what the future of public relations and the broader world brings to your lap.

No. 1 Courage to set aside past experience and reinvent yourself from time to time. The fact is, the more you learn in life, the less you will understand. Sounds counterintuitive, I know. The fact is that employers and clients value expertise over experience. Don’t confuse the two. It’s one thing to accumulate experience over time. It’s another thing to develop the expertise to know what to do with that experience. Experience alone gets you only so far in your career.

No. 2 Ideas are worth a fortune in the creative economy. Today, ideas are the currency accepted worldwide. Employers and clients alike are willing to pay more for PR practitioners who bring fresh thinking and innovative solutions rather than simply relying on “wash, rinse and repeat” ideas that we often refer to as best practices. Don’t get me wrong; it’s great to see what others are doing and who is raising the bar. That’s sound insight. But if your goal is to do as well as everyone else, you’re never going to have an original idea. You’re never going to innovate new ways of doing things. You’ll be ill prepared to reinvent your own skills and expertise to remain relevant in an ever-changing future.

No. 3 Inspiration to make the world around you a better place. By having the courage to reinvent yourself and create ideas that solve problems and achieve organizational goals, you will inspire a better world around you in new and different ways. While the rational appeal of features, benefits and reasons to believe increases awareness and understanding of contemporary issues and topics, the future practice of public relations increasingly requires tapping the emotional appeal found within the heart and soul of your target stakeholder. Real change in public opinion and, more importantly, behavior demands real commitment from racially, ethnically, socially, economically and demographically diverse audiences. Public relations is about inspiring economic, social and political change more than simply informing audiences and seeking permission to conduct your business.

Since you’re going to spend the majority of your waking hours as an adult at work, you’d better choose your career wisely. I’m fortunate that I discovered the profession of public relations where I can make news by bending pop culture, shaping public opinion and building a better world around me.

Doug Spong signature

Published: June 20, 2014