The Public Relations Wiseguy

J. Michael Willard
3 min readSep 7, 2021
Early reporting days as UPI bureau chief in Louisville.

By Michael Willard

I doubt you have heard the story of the four-year-old tyke who looked up at his father and said with sincerity, “I want to be a PR guy when I grow up.” It would fail the suspension of disbelief test.

However, with shrinking newspapers these days, the statistics suggest that there are five Public Relations specialists for every journalist. As a former reporter, I don’t bemoan this factoid, merely wonder if the PR field is awash in amateurism.

A lot of us can hum at least some of the lyrics to Franz Schubert’s Ave Maria, but few of us can sing it without it sounding like a wee hour barroom scrum around a tinny piano.

Hence, this is not a discussion about the soaring heights of say Andrea Bocelli. It’s more one of questioning adequacy, and whether it rises to a respectable level of a wise guy in Public Relations.

I am talking about strategic aforethought in ideas and not about the hawking of trinkets or analyzing the number of widgets on a shelf at Ace Hardware — real hardcore PR. It is in this arena that pretenders abound.

Charlatans they are, though, in truth, most have good intentions, sort of like Barney Fife in the old Andy Griffith series.

In general, there are fewer barriers to launching a public relations career than there are to being admitted as a Sam’s Club member for the purpose of buying toothpaste by the 12 pack. If you can spell PR, you an hang out a shingle.

In some respects, this is natural, even good. The public relations field is not science, regardless of attempts by some to brand it with catchy names such as perception management.

Such hocus-pocus is cheap tinsel for the purpose of selling pseudo magic to a gullible prospect. It is Harold Hill in the Music Man without Mr. Hill’s ultimate redeeming qualities.

I have often identified with my own white sneaker definition of the profession:

It’s telling a CEO or a politician what he or she already knows but doesn’t want to hear — and doing so in such a way you convey a feeling of Armageddon should he or she not take your advice.

My own journey to PR was the trajectory of a silver ball being flipped around in a…

J. Michael Willard

I am a novelist but my day job is utilizing my years as a business consultant, journalist, and public service in the field of international development.