Within the PR industry, the year kicked off with an impassioned response to Radio 4’s Art of PR show, well-known industry figures and PR’s two membership organisations pushed back on what was, by almost all accounts, a drastic mis-representation of modern public relations.
It’s important that PR practitioners have these debates; to question and to challenge but, internal discussion can often be removed from the very people our work affects on a daily basis.
Why did we all get so riled up?
I’d recommend giving the show a listen, but in summary it focused on primarily on media relations, dodgy spin tactics and, essentially, avoiding the truth. It was not what I, or many practitioners I know, recognise as the work we do.
Working in public relations can feel like a giant game of snakes and ladders. We go steadily along trying to reach our goal of a professional, ethical, respected career and sometimes we get to climb a ladder that helps us towards the final square, and sometimes we end up sliding down a big ol’ snake. This show was a snake.
It reinforced a lot of things from which many of us fight hard to break away; media relations is our primary function, we are underhanded and dislike truth and transparency, we’ll make it up.
These comments and the very title of this blog have been mentioned and asked to me at networking events, in fact-finding meetings, said jokingly by senior management team members and I’ve worked, like many of my peers, to dispel these beliefs and educate people on what my work for them entails.
Where does that leave our clients?
The thing is, of course we’re going to say we’re ethical and responsible and don’t do any of those things. The challenge for businesses is choosing who and what to believe. I can’t say that the practises and tactics mentioned in the show don’t still exist in public relations, sadly they do, but the instances of them are now, thankfully, few and far between.
However, for a huge proportion of agencies and practitioners, earning trust in what we do and why is the biggest client battle we face. It’s unlikely that senior decision makers, unless they fall into a Twitter spiral, will come across the many articles posted by practitioners explaining what this show got wrong and why. Our ruminations on this remain enclosed, separate. Our widespread condemnation is not reflected in our direct communications to clients, potential clients or the general public – the people directly impacted by our actions and behaviour.
The outcome, to go back to the earlier metaphor, is that we miss a chance to climb a ladder on the playing board and instead stay put, waiting for another roll of the dice.
If your view of PR is cloudy, understanding vague, or trust low, I’d recommend reading the blogs of the people listed below, of if you’re in Yorkshire ask us for a 1-2-1 and we’ll gladly share our way of working.
Must reads on why PR isn’t just media relations: