Should We Ditch ‘PR’ or Should We ‘Clean House’?

Spin, lies, manipulation and propaganda – ‘bending the truth’ and ‘deceiving the public’.

In short, these are the key findings of the latest research commissioned by PRWeek on the perception of PR among members of the British public.

And if this is the perception of a small segment of the British public in a country where there are two very active membership organisations, with robust ethical codes of conduct and a rather constant commitment to improving the development of the practice here and elsewhere, it does make one wonder what the perception of PR is in the rest of the world?

I, again, remember what Jeremy Cresswell told me years ago, that what I do ‘is not PR‘ because what I do is ‘strategy’. The trust in what we do, as an industry, is so low that I’m seriously considering saying that I specialise in ‘hearts and minds’.

I’ll refer you further to a recent article I wrote, based on another conversation with a journalist friend who simply said that:

‘You have loads of idiots representing your industry and they make others look bad.’

I came across another ‘lovely’ referral of PR – this time from The New Statesman:

‘Journalists aim to find out the truth; PRs aim to convey their client’s version of the truth.’

And then, of course, we have the various hundreds of definitions of PR, some focused on reputation, others focused on business and societal impact, others concentrated on engagement and dialogue.

What could be seen as funny, if hadn’t been so blooming painful, is the fact that there are still business executives out there who have not heard of PR or what PR is about.

And while this was one of the findings of the PRWeek research referenced above, I had my very own experience of this very recently, during a series of qualitative interviews I conducted for some research I’m leading on.

I asked a senior energy executive a very straightforward question: “what are, in your view, the skills a Public Relations practitioner needs to have in order to work in the energy sector?”

I could not believe my eyes when I read her answer:

‘Interesting question and if I may ask you to elaborate on what is Public Relations actually as this is not a title I am familar with in Oil and Gas – as we have marketing or business development.’

Sometimes, it does feel like we’re climbing a mountain whose summit is getting further and further away…

I have a friend and colleague who is adamant that ‘PR’ is a very damaging term to and for what he does. He constantly argues that the corporate world understands and knows of ‘Comms’, not of ‘PR’.

This being said, do we ditch the term ‘PR’ and embrace ‘Comms’, or do we start looking at building walls, not barriers, for those who use ‘PR’ in their job title or description of activities?

Qualifications, ethical conduct, professional development and abidance by the rules of law and, hopefully, ‘practice’ will determine whether we can survive or reinvent what we do.

Until then, we can only lead by example. But, let’s not fool ourselves: one of us for one hundred of ‘them’, will never be enough.

Image courtesy of flickr user Bundesministerium für Europa, Integration und Äußeres via wikipedia ‘spin’ page.

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