Hetrick and the Magic Question

By now you’ve heard there will be no more Hetrick Communications in Indianapolis. In fact, I’m submitting this blog on the final day of operations at what’s been one of Indianapolis’ biggest and busiest PR firms. Understanding what happened is easy. We have all faced flat, inconsistent or dwindling budgets through the financial downturn, and a squeezed revenue stream ultimately forced the doors closed at Hetrick as well as other firms in Central Indiana.

When hearing about this, I’m sure many of us immediately thought about what it would mean personally for Mr. Bruce Hetrick and our other peers who are employees of the firm. But beyond that, I find myself remembering back a few years to when I personally enjoyed the chance to work with Hetrick.

About six years ago I was working at a large corporation in Indianapolis and still new to public relations. Our management wanted to do a better job of telling our story, so we brought Hetrick in for a series of consulting sessions they called “strategy drills.” What I remember most vividly about these sessions – with about a dozen VP level leaders from Indiana and surrounding states – was a single question that former Hetrick pro John Thomas posed to our group very early on:

“What do we want our communications to do?”

It’s a short and simple but very insightful and powerful question. This question cuts to the very core of what public relations is all about. It is the launching pad for the management process of PR planning.

It is a magic question. It triggers the four-step process. It requires the very important task of writing good objectives complete with Behavior change, Level, Timeframe and Public (anyone hungry for a B.L.T with a Pickle?)

Working with management to develop a good, measurable answer to that question and then executing well-planned programs to fulfill the answer is how PR professionals add value to organizations, clients and causes.

Many who have worked with me since will recognize that I have “borrowed” this question from John and from Hetrick. I will often use it as I talk about the value and purpose of PR. I’ve spoken to PR classes about it. I’ve evoked it in a few job interviews.

Part of me is worried: With the exit of Hetrick and perhaps others to follow, and with the continued tightening of PR budgets, will enough of us be around, willing and able to ask Indiana organizations this question in the future?

So as we bid a fond farewell to Hetrick Communications and wish Bruce and the others the best of fortunes for the future, let’s think about our overall influence as a profession and not allow it to be diminished. It’s up to all of us, as PRSA members and professionals, to keep asking tough questions of Indiana’s organizations and putting well-purposed PR plans in place, much as Hetrick and others have for years.

Ask the magic question… even if you have to ask it to yourself. Then make sure there’s a good answer.

By the way, John. Thanks for the tip.

Post by: Jim Gavin, APR, is media relations manager for OneAmerica Financial Partners, Inc. an Indianapolis organization offering life insurance, retirement and employee benefits.  He serves as co-director of professional development for the Public Relations Society of America, Hoosier Chapter.  

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