Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Dispatches from The Dark Side

I was alerted yesterday to an article on Yahoo hotjobs entitled “Good Careers with Bad Reputations” featuring – you guessed it – PR.

This wasn’t news to me; I’ve become well accustomed to references to PR as “The Dark Side”. We all know that journalists are universal truth-seekers who selflessly dedicate their lives to exposing lies and protecting democracy, while PR people hide “the truth”, deflect attention from things that really matter, and protect liars and thieves, right?


The fact is, as the Yahoo article points out, there are good practitioners and bad practitioners in every field. Just as there are dishonest PR people, there are agenda-driven journalists – and either side of that equation inevitably leads to misinformation in the public discourse.

Ethical public relations practitioners help their clients communicate with their audiences, period. Yes, it’s our job to help the client put its best foot forward – but if that’s dishonest, then so is anyone who trims a beard, irons clothes or applies makeup before going out.

Good PR people are not in the business of obfuscation or dishonesty; we are in the business of communicating effectively. That can involve a number of strategies and tactics, but it isn’t dishonest: we recognize that we communicate in a noisy world, and that we have to be smart about cutting through the clutter with the information that really matters to our audiences.

Likewise, good reporters aren’t in the business of imposing their opinions or slanting coverage to suit a personal agenda; they are in the business of telling stories objectively.

I’ve worked with a large number of excellent reporters over the course of my career in PR, who have come to my clients for comment on a wide range of issues. Their stories didn’t always paint my clients in the most flattering light – but then, my clients weren’t always on the most desirable side of the issues in question. These reporters gave us fair opportunities to comment, and relayed our positions accurately. Unfortunately, I’ve also had the misfortune to deal with a far smaller number of reporters, who didn’t uphold those same standards of fairness in their reporting. Fortunately for our entire mass media structure, those individual performances don’t taint their entire profession.

Good PR people advocate for the interests of the public (and for those of the media, I might add) within their organizations as much as they advocate for their organizations externally.

PR shouldn’t have a bad reputation. What PR really needs is… PR.

1 comment:

  1. I was not able to see the rankings or the article unfortunately (darn passwords), but my experience in similar ranking situations is that journalists often rank "low" - if not lower - in these sorts of discussions.

    I feel that PR often suffers from a certain "guilt by association", where the public, while freely consuming news (ranging from the latest thoughtful inquiry into President Obama's economic policies to "What's next with John and Kate?"), have a low, suspicious opinion of how news is generated, and PR professionals are seen as part of this.

    I find that memoirs (never mind any popular fiction) excacerbate this public view. Journalists are often derogatory in their recollections of the PR people they worked with, while senior communications professionals - I would say generally from the political environment - would often value or recognize the PR practioner seen as tough, even ruthless, and manipulative, as a the best sort of asset to have.