It is an uphill struggle for PR to promote its value, when it is always having to fend off slurs from the media. After just two years in the PR industry, Chris Brown, senior account executive at PR agency Big Cat Group, has been surprised by the flack that PR gets: “I saw one article by a local blogger that depicted PROs as vultures looking for a big story and not caring about their clients as long as they get paid.“ Brown says that he, for one, is shocked: “Although I’m relatively new to the industry I’d like to think I’d stick to my morals when push comes to shove, something which I think is vital in today’s society.” Brown thinks that it is unfair for all PROs to get constantly put down: “I’m not denying that there are some bad PROs in the world, but the majority of us do damn good work and leave the office with a sense of pride in what we’ve achieved. We’re not all money-grabbing spin doctors, and neither are we party animals like Samantha Jones from Sex and the City.”
Just because it is a media scapegoat, does not mean that PR should be a victim. Paul Sutton, head of digital PR at agency Bottle PR, says that although the industry takes a battering for being flaky and lacking credibility, it does nothing to uphold its own reputation. He adds: “We seem intent on actively destroying our own image by in-fighting and failing to keep up with trends in digital media.”
Sutton has a theory as to why PR is failing to blow its own trumpet. He argues that as budgets dried up and the social web came to the fore, agencies became hyper-competitive and task oriented: “We, arguably, lost the ability to build relationships and to be social, favouring instead to focus heavily on deadlines and pace. The media has changed beyond recognition over the last five years, but certain quarters of the PR industry have buried their heads in the sand and are stuck in 2005.”
“Trends in the social web and the tools used to leverage it take time to learn. And many in PR seem to think that if what they’ve been doing for the last ten years was OK, why bother changing it? And so the industry is mocked for being backward and failing to evolve.”
Sutton believes that rather than ignoring social media, PR people should embrace it as it is an excellent tool for showing off PR skills: “There’s a community of progressive and collaborative PR/communications bloggers and Tweeters who share information and ideas, and support one another. If we all focused on owning the industry rather than tearing down the competition, we could change the mentality and ensure its future.”
Keren Burney, consultant at public relations consultancy Compege, discusses her experience of PR bashing:
“I always recall years ago, when I was first freelance, making a phone call from my home office to an industrial journalist. I said something like: ‘Hello, my name is Keren Burney. I'm calling on behalf of XYZ.’ I didn't get further than that. He launched (there's no other word for it) on a five-minute long tirade against PR people. I politely took the onslaught, although I didn't need to. I managed to get in a short word or two before he slammed the phone down. It was not a conversation – that man had been waiting for the next PR person to ring and they were going to get it. That was me. My only recourse was to take him off of my distribution list so that he’d lose out next time.
“I’ve never met an inept PR person – only people who are trying very hard to get good results while balancing the requirements of both clients and press. But I have met clients who refuse to pay for media training, and if they’re poor spokespeople that prevents the PR person from doing their paid job. Others are disorganised and cannot confirm the main news story for a trade conference until one week before the stand opens – again, how can we set up good briefings in advance with no confirmation of news? We are as good as our clients, bless ‘em; at the same time we must lead the clients with advice and good management over the long term if we are to create the results they are after.”
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