Like many Americans, I have long admired the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. There are many reasons to admire the man. One reason I admire him most is for his speeches, beautifully crafted and delivered with compelling cadence and style. And of all his speeches, one line from his “I have a dream” speech comes back to me most frequently: his dream that one day “we judge each other not by the color of our our skin but by the content of our character.”
I often think that as professional communicators, we would do well to adapt and amend that and measure ourselves not by attention and sales metrics but by the character of our content.
Journalists should eschew click bait, sensationalism, rushing to judgment to be first rather than right, partisan and prejudicial in what is not covered, what is covered, and how it’s covered.
Advertisers should reconsider pandering to the perceived social cause of the moment to piggyback on public sentiment, and instead work to reflect authentic sentiment of brands and organizations they represent. They should hold back on inserting questionable language in a Super Bowl ad with the intent of getting it withdrawn so they can get more attention in a social campaign. They should value not edgy copy that polarizes their “market” but consider the effect of content on all stakeholders, whether customers or not.
Public relations “practitioners” should aspire to be public relations professionals and adopt a model of practice that stresses mutual relationships, not mere attention. They should work not to craft an image, but to earn a reputation. They should seek not to distribute volumes of commodified content, but selective and appropriate messaging that serves a legitimate, specific and ethical organizational objective.
Now, some might say this is all naive. They would point out that there are significant competitive pressures, client demands, the boss’ expectations. Yes, but professionals can respond with character and resolve, can counsel not just fulfill, speak truth to power, influence organizational cultures and not be influenced by them.
Even at that, I’m sure some will call me an idealist. Yes, I have professional ideals. That’s another way of saying I have a dream.