Is the quality of our (PR) work judged by our standards?

I have always been a big believer in the important role that professional bodies play in the world of Public Relations.  Promoting a common set of standards across this reputation-challenged profession is a good thing. 

However, with no common enforced regulations, perhaps the quality of our work can by judged by the standards we set for ourselves?

There was recently a great guest post by Jean Valin and Daniel Tisch on the PR Conversations blog discussing the Melbourne Mandate (and this week For Immediate Release posted an interview with Jean and Daniel on the Mandate), which aims to define a set of roles, responsibilities and principles for PR practitioners.

From the website:

Today, unprecedented public access to communication presents new challenges and opportunities for organisations – and for global society. This presents a new mandate for public relations and communication management: a set of roles, responsibilities and principles hereby endorsed by delegates to the 2012 World Public Relations Forum in Melbourne, Australia.

The new mandate

Public relations and communication professionals have a mandate to:

  • define and maintain an organisation’s character and values;
  • build a culture of listening and engagement; and
  • instill responsible behaviours by individuals and organisations.


I’d strongly recommend you to take some time to review the Melbourne Mandate and see how it applies to the work you’re doing.

The Global Alliance for PR and Communication Management is behind the Melbourne Mandate. It’s an organization that represents many of the world’s largest PR professional bodies and is also involved in the Barcelona Declaration of Measurement Principles, a set of proposed standards for measuring Public Relations.

Given the changes taking place in the world of communications this is a good thing.  As I’ve said before, as long as PR agencies are using proprietary measurement as a competitive differentiator we’re in trouble.

Bonus: Read Andy West of Hotwire PR on the importance of supporting the measurement debate

Hands up… all is not well in the world of Public Relations

Earlier this week Forrester analyst Josh Bernoff published a plea to PR professionals to take a stand against unprofessional practices.


Compared to many previous rants on this issue and the shoddy practices we’re all aware of, his plea is rational and completely fair.

If you work in Public Relations, then you should passionately care about the industry’s image – and the damage caused by silly people.

The problem is that there’s so much of it.

Please note that I’m not including simple mistakes in this.  Mistakes happen, that’s why they’re called mistakes. Berating someone for a simple error makes me extremely uncomfortable, we all make them.

But unprofessional, lazy or stupid conduct should be called out.

I write posts in this blog infrequently.  It’s read even less frequently. Yet I am, through the power of online databases – and lazy PR people – inundated with irrelevant pitches every single day. I am convinced some of these databases must have a “spam anyone with a (suspected) pulse” filter.

Of course I also get the odd, relevant, well written pitch, which just makes me feel guilty that they wasted good time on me Smile.

So let’s keep calling it out and hopefully people will start to learn. Don’t hold your breath though….

Additional thought: Arthur Yann of the PRSA gets a star for responding to Josh’s post. However, although the PRSA is an organization focused on supporting its membership, something I think is very important, I do think it’s a little ironic that only members can view their Social Media Policy.

Update: Arthur has kindly been in touch to point out that the Social Media Policy is actually freely available with registration!  Thanks Arthur.


PR people: if you want respect, pay your dues..

Is PR a profession?  If you think so then Bill Sledzik has a great post with some bad news for you.  He estimates that we’re 0/5 from the five attributes of a profession. His advice:

Follow the PRSA Code of Ethics whether you’re a member of not. Mentor up-and-coming practitioners and interns, encouraging them to act professionally. Support a “professional organization” that attempts to elevate the status of the field. And do the right thing, because “true” professionals act autonomously, always placing the public interest ahead of client interest.

This is a thorny subject. 

From time to time PR people raise the issue of the profession’s (or not) poor perception.  Normally this results in a passionate call to action, a web site, a plan, a petition.  The one common result of these efforts is nothing.  Nothing changes. Last week we had the latest effort from Keith Trivitt and PR Cog*. (*Not to be grumpy but is it ironic that someone writing under a pseudonym is giving out about PR’s perception problems? Really?)

Of course there are very good reasons why PR has a perception issue. First and foremost there’s a lot of very poor practice out there. Some of it is due to laziness, some of it is due to a lack of professional pride or competence and unfortunately some of it is due to a serious lack of ethics. However, it all adds up to a huge reputational challenge.

We are not helped that the barriers to entry into this line of work are at best low and at worst non-existent.

Let’s also not forget that the level of membership of our professional bodies is incredibly low.

I welcome people’s passion and their attempt at affirmative action.  But in my opinion it’s a waste of time, energy and resources.

If you are a PR practitioner and you are serious about addressing our collective perception issues, then the first thing you should do is join your local professional body, adhere to well accepted (global) code of ethics and invest your energy in evangelizing the need for professional membership.

When I lived in Ireland I was a long-time member of the PRII and was lucky enough to spend a few years on the Board.  There I saw firsthand the hard work underway around the world to agree standard codes and evangelize their importance.

The challenge is that while the professional bodies can provide a collective voice for practitioners, their validity is proportional to their membership.  If PR people don’t sign up then their impact and mandate is reduced.

Now I am well aware that these bodies have their limitations, however the fact remains they are already doing a lot of work to address these issues and the more people who sign up, the greater impact they can have.  If you want to make a positive contribution sign up and get involved.

So, put away your new wiki or website. Instead pay a visit to your local professional body, sign up for membership, read and embrace the code of ethics and start educating people about them.

Addressing PR’s perception issues is a complex and some would say impossible task.  However, supporting our professional bodies will help this issue far more than any website or amateur plan.

Share your thoughts in the comments below or let me know on Twitter.

Disclaimer: I was a long time member of the Public Relations Institute of Ireland, though my membership has lapsed since my move to the United States last year.  The PRSA and IABC are on my to-do list.  Add your local professional body to yours Smile.

Update: Judy Gombita over at PR Conversations penned a post on a similar topic a while back: Industry, trade or profession? Some observations on PR associations, present and future


Posted by Tom Murphy

Can we rely on PR’s “moral” minority with this issue?

Last week, as you may have already read, there was much “outrage” and “gnashing of teeth” about a PR firm who sent a broad e-mail to a wide range of (PR) bloggers promoting a book.  It was a faux pas, a mistake, but hardly the end of the world. Unfortunately as often happens in the rarified online atmosphere, we saw an epic over-reaction to this snafu.

Earlier today a more heinous accusation was leveled against a “Sales, Marketing and Public Relations Company”.  (*The accusation is that they created and posted “independent” consumer reviews of their client’s products)

So can we expect these same defenders of perfect PR practice to wail and flame post about this, far more serious, issue? 

Well, probably not, but we’ll see.

I have to say I’m somewhat uncomfortable discussing this latest issue.  One media report doesn’t necessarily provide the full story, and the agency’s response does reference a disgruntled former employee who is doing the rounds bad mouthing the agency.

I’m sure you are speaking with one of our former employees that has been contacting media outlets… I’m not sure what “unethical practices” you are referring to so it would be hard for me to comment, but I am hoping that you will do the proper research to ensure that the facts you are reporting are accurate and nit written based on information provided by a disgruntled former employee who is violating his confidentiality agreement.

That said this does raise a couple of interesting issues:

  • To be credible participants in the social media sphere should PR firms (who have been ensnared in many of these issues since the Interweb emerged and in the real-world before that) publicly state that they eschew these kinds of activities? [This was proposed by the Anti-Astroturfing campaign three years ago]
  • Where do PR industry organizations such as the PRCA stand on this kind of activity?
  • What does this mean for all the “social media gurus” who claim that the ”crowd” will rid the ills of the world – if the crowd is in fact armies of marketing people posing as teenagers (though I’d imagine real teenagers would spot the sweaty 30-something imposter)

It’ll be interesting to see events unfold, and as the facts emerge, it’ll be interesting to see if the moral minority climb up on their high horse again.

Yeah right… I won’t hold my breath.

In the meantime, what can you do?

Back in 2006 Trevor Cook and Paull Young co-founded an Anti-Astroturfing campaign.

We oppose the practice of astroturfing, defined above, in any form. The practice should never be a part of a public relations campaign as it is anti-democratic, unethical, immoral and often illegal.

We will attempt to raise awareness of this practice, expose it for what it is, and encourage our fellow communicators to join us in opposition.

We call for all professional communication bodies to strongly, publicly and actively oppose astroturfing; alongside PR agencies, individual practitioners and bloggers.

Interestingly only five PR firms signed up.

Maybe it’s time to dust off the turf.


Suuplemental: Tom’s Notes:

1) Following some feedback I’ve made a change to this post marked with an asterisk.  Someone suggested I should outline the allegation, which makes sense. 

2) A couple of other people have questioned if this practice really represents astroturfing. They believe that the term astroturfing applies more accurately to companies or industries creating NGOs or think tanks for the purpose of supporting their views on an issue. I think there’s a direct link between both practices.  Though I’m interested in your views on the matter.

Strumpette: Light PR touch paper and stand back…

Back in 2006, Strumpette appeared on the PR blogging scene, an anonymous site that promised to dish the dirt on the industry.  Of course its anonymity gave it free reign and it didn’t hold back.

imageAs I recall, the response from PR bloggers at the time was mixed, with some welcoming a more caustic look at the business and with others feeling it crossed the line more often than not.

Bill Sledzik has just published the first of 17 interview shorts with Brian Connolly (pictured right), the creator of Strumpette, which is sure to reignite some heated discussion on the matter.

Personally I’m somewhat conflicted. 

I think the PR community can often be a little too precious.  We don’t necessarily react well to criticism.  We’re often a little too defensive -  too often. 

It’s no harm to have things shaken up from time to time.

On the other hand, I think Strumpette was over the top.

It took some pretty cowardly shots at people from behind its online moniker. Rather than being pithy and clever, it was too often just grinding out its own agenda, which was simply character assassination.

Some of the comments on Bill’s post have described Strumpette as “real”, “legitimate” and pointed out that it had “courage”.  I don’t believe it was or had any of these things.

I mean, Connolly used to deny it was him, see this clip from the Washington Post blog:


But eh…it was him. Not a lot of courage there.

Anyhow, Strumpette did mix things up for a little while, which was probably no bad thing.  I imagine a lot of people are pretty bitter about the whole project, but it’ll be interesting to hear Connolly’s side of the story.

It’s all about balance, something Strumpette probably missed. For smart, funny and caustic commentary, the UK’s “The World’s Leading” (RIP) was more my cup of tea.