PR Legend: Michael L. Herman*


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.Mike Herman

CEO of Communications Sciences (CSI); internationally recognized speaker and author of more than 50 publications. Served as CEO of The Herman Group, Inc., Epley Associates Public Relations; former Chairman of The Catevo Group, Inc.; former CEO of Catevo Middle East; chair of PRSA’s Collee of Fellows; former chair of PRSA’s Counselors Academy. Served as adjunct professor of communication at North Carolina State University and is an adjunct professor of communication and change management at Illinois State University. 

When I began my career in public relations, life was simpler.  We considered ourselves “communicators” and we worked through three media: newspapers, television and radio. And we mostly communicated with people in the United States.

There were three television networks, two news wire services and hundreds of daily newspapers.   To reach them you used the wire services, mailed press releases or held press conferences.  You interacted with your media friends on a face-to-face basis. You knew most of them personally, and they knew you.

That is not the world of today’s graduates.

The media landscape now is as varied as the technology that drives it.  The profession itself has grown and become more sophisticated. It is now a blend of social, business and hard sciences.  To succeed requires proficiencies in world history, geography, philosophy, psychology, sociology, statistics and scientific research and maybe even comparative religions.

It also requires us to be knowledgeable about those who have come before in the profession; their successes, their mistakes, their beliefs and their vision.  Most importantly, it requires a working knowledge of the way businesses, organizations, cultures and individuals think, make decisions and adapt to or control the environments and changes that face them.

I believe that to survive as a profession, we must become more than “communicators” of messages for our organizations, delivery mechanisms and press relations or brand publicity mavens.  We must, in fact, become “change managers!”  We must be recognized as the individuals within the organization that recognize, identify, prioritize and help navigate the constant changes, internal and external, that every organization faces from its inception.

Consolidation of companies and globalization of industries now requires us to acquire and hone global sensitivity.  We must be multi-functional, multi-lingual and multicultural or at least culturally sensitive, because our brothers and sisters in the profession around the world definitely already are.

Public relations consultants and practitioners tasked with counseling and communicating in a global marketplace are expected to have, at the very least, a working knowledge and capability to understand and explain the marketplace. In addition they must be able to recognize and manage the cultural and societal pressures that often lead to international incidents and misunderstandings, as well as those that provide roadblocks to understanding.

The problem isn’t simply one of communication and understanding. It is more than saying it right and/or even having “right” on your side.  It’s about having the courage to constantly take an introspective look at ourselves and our profession. It’s about having the fortitude, when times and circumstances demand, to change the basic design of who and what we are, as well as how and why we do the things we do.

What does this mean to emerging professionals?  It means that to succeed you must:

  • Take the personal responsibility to educate yourself and broaden your knowledge base beyond communication and public relations courses and, more importantly, beyond your personal, geographic and cultural boundaries.
  • Develop the ability to be a strategic long-term thinker and not just a tactician and message deliverer. You must be a battle planner and strategist, not a spear carrier and message deliverer.
  • Be on the forefront of predicting, utilizing and integrating technology to its fullest, without letting it control you at the expense of thinking, planning and the face-to face human factors upon which your success and the long-term success of the profession depends.
  • Become a leader who is confident in your abilities, knowledgeable in your profession, respectful of those around you and unafraid to listen, learn and lead by example.

This is one of the most exciting and meaningful times in history to be in our profession. The leaders who have come before, built a solid foundation. Learn from them; build on their contributions! For it is you, “generation next,” who must become leaders for those who follow after. It is a huge responsibility. But it is one that, I am confident; certain special individuals among you will embrace and own. Oh, how I envy the things you will see and create!

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Published: 2009

* Deceased (1948-2015)