Can you trust a PR person as far as you can throw them? by Aimee Postle

According to a recent survey by PRmoment, PR is seen as the least untrustworthy profession by the general public.

Take a while to think about that sentence.

Then take a look at the other professions being measured – bankers, journalists, politicians and estate agents.

With the way that these professions have been pilloried in the last year, you’d hope that PR came out on top!

But, what does this suggest about the PR profession and should the term ‘PR’ die a death while still in its relative youth?

For many people their understanding of PR comes from a celebrity or political context – sensationalist publicity designed to manipulate the truth.

Many would argue that the PR industry does not do a very good job of looking after its own reputation and should do more to distance itself from publicists and spin doctors.

But, what actually is PR?

Met with a recruitment consultant earlier this week who attended a ‘find out about PR’ training workshop. Her perception – based on what the trainer revealed – was that it was all about getting your photo taken next to Lewis Hamilton!

In 1976, academic Rex Harlow analysed 472 separate definitions of PR (in an update for the 1990s, he looked at more than 500) – all with different emphasis. Is there even a right answer?

The question ‘what is PR’ is one that Kinetic is debating at the moment.

Our business model has changed substantially in the last three years as a result of changes in client expectations, the ups and downs of the economy and the growth and development of the Kinetic team.

The big focus is now on ensuring that communications are integrated across all channels – internal and external – and that the messages are consistent with the vision, mission and values of the organisation.

Our question then, is this still PR – often taken to mean press relations? And, if so, how do we alter public perceptions of the profession? Or, has nothing changed – is this the same focus that the industry has had all along – just with a little more clarity?

If I can venture the first comment…

The CIPR definition of PR states that PR is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you.

This holistic approach to PR seems to fit just as well with the new model as with the old – taking into account everything that can affect your organisation’s reputation.

So, that would suggest that – while the tools and techniques may be constantly evolving – we are still in the business of PR.


3 Responses

  1. It seems somewhat bizarre that an industry who’s key purpose (in my mind) is to promote organisations and individuals and to manage the communication channels to the public has such a poor reputation.

    Perhaps it follows a similar vein as the decorator who hasn’t decorated their own house.

    My perception of PR is that it’s one of those disciplines that should be heard but not seen, the public (or consumer) should not be aware of the PR machine behind the organisation, they should however be aware of a well organised, well managed organisation getting a strong positive message across.

    And keeping a very healthy distance from spin doctors and (self seeking) publicists !

    And I would definitely put Politicians way in front of PR practitioners in terms of untrustworthiness !

    • Hi Wayne. Thanks for the comment.

      Would agree with you that PR definitely needs to do a better job on its own reputation/PR – decorators and their houses, gardeners and their gardens, cobblers and their shoes. Perhaps it is a bit like some IT companies and their own websites – although, congratulations to both Conduce and Dreamscape for their recent updates, looking great!

      Of course, some PR consultancies are better at doing their own PR than others but it is still a case of he who shouts loudest colours the profession – and often ‘he’ is a spin doctor or publicist.

      Much as PR people like to be recognised when something goes well, you are right that it should be a genuine, natural communication between organisation and individual. The PR person should be facilitating that communication, putting the channels in place and helping the organisation articulate their substance.

      But, that substance has to be there in the first place. It doesn’t matter how good the PR person if the organisation consistently fails to meet customer/client expectations. However, that’s where all the other tools come in – internal communications, culture change, etc.

      And, that’s why the question of what actually is PR.


  2. […] Can you trust a PR person as far as you can throw them?, 29 January 2010 […]

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