Rejected by the PR industry for being an ad guy

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The speech I’ll never get to give. At least not this time around.

UPDATE: About an hour after this post, and over 600 shares later, I received a request to chat from the Council of PR Firms. They were apologetic, engaging and open-minded. In fact, we are in agreement on a number of points mentioned below. And while it was not my objective to get re-invited, it became apparent that we both agreed this was too good a mini, real time case — proving the need for courage, creativity and collaboration — to not get presented at their September event. It demonstrates the ability of an individual to create, the courage of the Council to acknowledge and engage. And the ultimate benefit of collisions and collaboration. And so, I have been re-invited. The power of social media, even in the hands of an “ad guy,” never fails to astound.

A couple of weeks ago, a colleague of mine asked, on behalf of The Council of PR Firms, if I would speak at a big event they were planning in Boston. The theme was to be change, acknowledging that the industry needs more diverse talent.

Perfect, I thought and immediately agreed. Given that I’d just spent the last few years advocating and initiating change inside a full service agency – hiring new kinds of talent, changing work that got made, embedding more of a social media mindset and inspiring collisions, I figured this was right up my alley.

But yesterday the Council of PR Firms uninvited me. Apparently they found out that I was an “ad guy.” And damn if a PR organization would have an “ad guy” talk to PR students and young professionals about change and diversity.

Well, I confess. I may be an “ad guy.” After all, I have been a copywriter and a creative director.  And I’ve made lots of ads.  But if there’s one thing we’ve learned in an age of conversation, uber-connectivity, user-generated content and the impact of technology it’s that we need to break down the walls and get rid of narrow labels.

If The Council of PR Firms had done any homework – aren’t PR people supposed to that? – they may have learned that I began my career as a corporate PR specialist, during which time I wrote speeches for CEOs and helped them develop public policy statements.

They may also have noted that I launched, and used to lead, what is one of the most successful PR departments inside any ad agency anywhere.

Chances are even pretty good that one or two of the attendees at the conference got his or her start writing for TNGG, a crowd-sourced Gen-Y blog that despite being launched by an “ad guy” was good enough for Marty Baron, then editor in chief at the Boston Globe to want as the voice of the Millennial generation on There’s an irony for you: an “ad guy” idea that’s good enough for journalism but not for a PR organization.

At the risk of sounding bitter, I could go on and mention being the inaugural speaker at the Newhouse Digital and Social Media Series at SI Newhouse, being named 2011 Innovator by the University of Colorado’s Journalism and Mass Communication program, spending a week as Executive in Residence at the University of Oregon’s Journalism School, and being featured in David Meerman Scott’s The New Rules of Marketing and PR.

Or maybe promote the fact that despite being an “ad guy” I am hosting Ford’s Scott Monty this fall as a speaker in the Doers Makers Innovators series at Boston University’s College of Communication. Why would  an “ad guy” invite a PR social media professional to speak?  Funny you should ask.

To be honest, I don’t really mind being rejected. “Ad guys” are used to rejection. The Council of PR Firms wasn’t paying me my typical speaking fee. And, since I always create original content, I’d have to plan, craft and rehearse my talk, all at the same time of year I’m getting ready for a new semester.

What has me upset is that an organization attempting to serve an entire profession would think so narrowly in this day and age.  It concerns me that the message they are sending to members is the wrong one. It’s worrisome if our industry gatekeepers are failing to teach the next generation the skills and mindset needed to succeed.

Sure there are differences between advertising and public relations. But in a time when brands and marketers have to master owned, earned and paid content, when PR firms are trying to get better at communicating in the stream, when native advertising is blurring the lines between advertising and content, shouldn’t we all be working together? Learning each others’ skills? Understanding how to leverage each others’ strengths?

I am pretty confident that users don’t make the distinction. “Hmm, I wonder whether this brand post in my feed was created by a “PR” guy or an “ad guy?” is not something we’ll ever hear anyone say.

Innovative PR agencies and individuals know this. Edelman is getting into the creative business. Vayner Media is creating brand content.  Mullen is embedding social media and PR thinking inside every agency department.

The title of my talk was going to be Courage, Creativity and Collisions. The idea was that PR professionals first and foremost need the courage to learn new tactics and techniques. The courage to embrace the unfamiliar.  The courage to avoid the comfort in preserving the status quo. I had planned on imploring them to find their creative side as there’s a tendency for PR to be a little stiff and straight forward. But in an age when the only thing scarce is attention, creativity is our most valuable tool. Even if you’re only a “PR guy.” And finally, I would have closed with the suggestion that now more than ever PR pros need to seek collisions. Collisions with journalists, technologists, artists, users, and yes, even “ad guys.”

We can’t work in isolation anymore. Not in an age of real time communication, apps that make us all content creators and collaborative consumption. We have to work together.

Sorry I won’t get to give my talk.

Steve Wellmeier
Steve Wellmeier

Great story so far! Looking forward to your blog post following the Council of PR Firms event. You've sure got a great opening.

Reminds me of the story of a friend who interviewed with an ad agency years ago for a copywriting position to handle their potato chip account. He had considerable experience in other types of snacks, food, restaurants, etc., but when the interviewer learned he had no "salty snack experience," he was politely shown the door. I thought those days were behind us.

Not to mention the thousands of us who labored within small corporations wearing both the advertising and PR hats, and learning that there's always been cross-pollination of ideas, tactics, strategies, etc. between the two.

Dan Weingrod
Dan Weingrod

Really? Really? I thought we were so past this world of protectionism.

Here's a thought: When you open, ask how many road bikers and mountain bikers are in the room and then tell the mountain bikers to leave cause you prefer road bikes.

Chris Brogan
Chris Brogan

GREAT post, sad and funny too. And man, the amount of PR people who have had me speak (I'm not a PR guy) and the number of Ad people who have had me speak (I'm not an ad guy), and the number of SEO guys (I don't even know what SEO means any more), and these people missed out on one of the SMARTEST guys out there?

Saying no to you is like one of those stories where someone rejects Stephen King's book, or doesn't sign Elvis, or whatever.

Sorry that happened, and I'm glad you're an "ad guy." You've taught me plenty about most everything but ads. : )


We're also bust if we can't proofread our comments. I obviously mean 'can't' not 'can' in paragraph one :-)


For PR folk, this yarn embodies the cross-roads we sit at as an industry. If we can shift gears, think, talk, act like 'ideas people', or 'engagement people', we're bust. Literally, bust.

I'd dispute one minor point; I believe our two most valuable tools as an industry are creativity and storytelling combined to powerful effect. That's how we get people coming back for more.

But one thing I wholeheartedly believe is that we need to be bolder, more daring. My new rule for 2013 was to do something terrifying every week. Eventually, I hope it's three times a day ..

edward boches
edward boches


Thanks. And as you can just see from the re-invite -- the result of social media -- you taught me a lot too. And for that I thank you.

edwardboches moderator

@@joewalton I like the terrifying idea. Among the things I suggest are courage to be stupid (don't fear trying new things and jeopardizing your reputation as an authority) courage to take chances (they can be calculated, certainly but....), and the courage to avoid getting too comfortable, which makes us resistant to change.