Papa, PR, authenticity: are we brave enough?
This week marks 50 years since Ernest ‘Papa’ Hemingway ate a bullet sandwich. He was brave and authentic, both in his work and in life.
Hemingway’s distinctive writing style, characterized by economy and understatement, has had a minor influence on my PR career.
But sadly, that’s where it ends.
As a career, PR hardly screams ‘machismo’. It is barely a whisper.
When I studied at university, the PR course was dominated by women. Of a class of about 40, I was one of four men. The other three men were never in danger of being cast in a beer commercial. While I was covered in mud on a country footy ground getting kicked in the ribs, they were likely shopping for clothes with their classmates.
This is not to say I’m a man’s man, far from it. I don’t know how to hunt, build a shelter or start a fire without a match. If you dropped me in the middle of a forest Bear-Grylls-style, I’d be dead within the hour (and there is no way in hell I’d drink my own piss).
Sure, I can use my iPhone to tweet and update my Facebook status, but if the grid went down, I’d be next to neutered.
So would most men.
Most of what we know comes not from experience, but from Wikipedia (fact: a large chunk of the second sentence in this blog entry was lifted directly from Wikipedia).
We’ve become so afraid of death that we refuse to actually live. I’ve been to an industry function where men were scared of the steak because it might raise their cholesterol – the same men whose exercise regime consists wholly of yoga and Pilates!
And we’re shit-scared to fail.
This is not entirely surprising. While Hemingway bent the world to his liking through sheer gusto, today a single impulsive tweet can cost you a career.
Maybe this is why we’re inauthentic, why we don’t take risks and challenge convention in the way that ‘Papa’ did?
Which brings me to a theory I have that’s likely to be wrong, but *#&@ it!
My theory is we’re about to enter a period dominated by the search for authenticity.
I’m a few months away from 40, and many of my peers are now moving into positions of influence.
Ours is the last generation that will remember the world before the Internet, and we’ve become nostalgic for a time that was never quite ours (Exhibit A: The popularity of Mad Men and Deadwood). Despite Don Draper’s double-life and that the show is based around advertising, what appeals to our generation is the authenticity of the time.
How will PR adjust to this search for authenticity?
How do we encourage our clients to take risks, challenge convention and not try and bury their mistakes in a blanket of weasel words?
How do we make ours a profession synonymous with authenticity?
Last year, the Public Relations Society of America listed authenticity as the number one challenge facing the industry1.
I would suggest the first thing we need do is be more authentic in our day-to-day lives and dealings with our friends, family and associates.
So, in honour of Papa Hemingway, I’m signing off and going fishing with my mates2.
2. Bullfights and civil wars were not practical at the time of writing