Defending the PR religion from bozos…………

Never a day passes without me reading some self-proclaimed guru making unfounded claims about the evil of PR and the death of the media as we know it.  In my more naive days I often rose to the bait and took them to task, even today I am often drawn inexorably towards hitting reply or adding a comment, but I’m on the wagon.

My name is Tom Murphy and I’m a recovering defender of PR to bozos

Ignorance, it seems to me, is one of the biggest challenges facing Public Relations.  For too long it has suited the wider PR industry to keep what we do under wraps.  We’ve strived to keep the secrets of the ‘PR magic circle’ and now it’s regularly biting us.  It’s biting us because the veil of secrecy has allowed unscrupulous flacks to implement unethical programs and it’s biting us because even mundane PR activities are now seen as major manipulation – even when they clearly aren’t anything of the sort.

The answer my friends isn’t blowing in the wind, the answer is education.  I’ll get back to that in a minute.

Yesterday Richard Edelman posted a well thought out entry on how the PR business must address the misperception of Public Relations.  In essence he outlines five elements:

  • We need to showcase the diversity of PR practice (i.e. it’s not all about astroturfing)
  • We must promote transparency
  • We must actively counter accusations about PR
  • We need enforecement against rogue practices
  • We need to do this as an industry

I think Richard’s points are well made.

I’ll even let him off the sneaky Edelman promotion he managed to work into the post. But there’s one area he has missed: Education.

Much of the misinformation that circulates about PR, is built on ignorance. What the PR industry needs to do, in addition to Richard’s steps above, is to work with the media to help consumers understand how the media works, how PR works and how the two intersect. 

As I mentioned above, our industry has, in the past, been reticient to “open the kimono” but the time has arrived.  If people understand the media process, they are in a better position to interpret the media, understand different viewpoints, appreciate the subtleties of a story.

It would quickly nullify much of the sabre rattling we have to listen to every day.  Of course this approach also requires the media to get their houses in order.  No more paid product placements on TV, disclosure on financial interests etc.

But in a world where consumers are educated on the media, PR starts to get back to what it is actually about: good communication.  PR practitioners must begin to realize that the illusion of control is just that, an illusion.  The Internet has created an environment where information flows freely.

What I think we need to do, is work with the media to educate the audience.  This should ideally begin in school.  Given the importance of the media, kids should be taught how it works, including PR’s role.  This is an important element of helping to clarify what PR is, and equally importantly, what it’s not.

Wouldn’t it be nice if your mummy didn’t think you were a spin doctor?