With critics of PR arguing that ethical PR is an oxymoron, and a public perception of the industry as ‘spin’, there is an uphill battle facing those of us who might want to use PR to do good. There is scepticism towards PR due to previous violations of the public trust, and with such a reputation, I do realise why I continuously have to defend my choice of career.
PR practitioners know more than most people how important reputation is, and I believe it should be a priority for the sake of trust and credibility. This bad reputation has been around since the very beginning of the industry’s existence and you could argue that the blame is to be shared by the industry itself as well as the media.
Fiction isn’t fact
With news media using negative connotations such as ‘spin’ and ‘PR ploy’ the public will naturally be affected accordingly. If your closest link to PR is what you read in the news then why would you trust the so called ‘spin doctors’ that do PR for international dictators, publish fake blogs in favour of superstores, cover up corporate gaffes, and spin political messages? And since fictional and non-fictional TV entertainment such as ‘AbFab’ and ‘The Spin Crowd’ present PR practitioners as rather unprofessional and slightly hysterical the portrayal of the industry is highly unfortunate.
I know, and people working in PR know, that there is so much more to public relations than what is being shown through popular culture, but does the general public know that? I am not so sure.
I think the reason why people may doubt our career choice is because of the fact that they might not be entirely sure of what we do. I have encountered this doubt numerous times, even within my own family with my mum being rather sceptical.
The devil’s work
A Swedish copywriter who is an old friend of my (slightly aggressively) left-wing and feminist mum finds my choice of career highly amusing and couldn’t help asking me at his house-warming party a few months back: “Does your mother know you work for the devil?” Now, he works himself in the communications industry and he absolutely loves provoking my mum so it was meant to be a joke, but you see my point.
I usually manage to somewhat change people’s perceptions by explaining the good uses of PR and highlighting the importance of communication within democratic societies, but the twisted perception amongst the general public is worrying.
Mainly in relation to the industry’s credibility in terms of public influence and organisational decision-making, but also in regards to recruitment and performance since episodes of ‘The Spin Crowd’ might put distorted views of professionalism in the minds of potential recruits. Mark Borkowski writes in his blog how The Spin Crowd represents ‘the old cliché of what PR is supposed to be about’ so there are certainly some unfair portrayals coming through via popular culture.
I do realise I am starting to sound rather pessimistic. This is not my intention, because I am actually optimistic about the industry’s future as well as mine. Graduation is approaching rapidly for all third year PR students and it is high time to consider possibilities, but also to contemplate aspirations.
Why did I want to pursue a career in public relations in the first place? What type of PR practitioner do I want to be? What organisation or agency would I really like to work for? I believe that questions like these are truly important in order to establish a sense of professionalism but also to develop a passion.
A passion for a brand, for storytelling, for digital media, or perhaps for a good cause in need of communication strategies. Genuine passion for what you do shines through and it could be an essential quality when communicating a message in order to make the receivers trust, value, and be encouraged of what you have to say.
Twestival goes local
An inspiring and topical example is Twestival which is happening for the fourth time on March 24th 2011 worldwide when it will be delivering local organising fundraising events for local charities. A simple and experimental initiative by Amanda Rose and friends grew into this fascinating event that has connected people all over the world with the aim of raising money for an immense number of causes worldwide.
This year Twestival is going local which means that small local charities that normally might struggle with getting noticed will be able to benefit from the engagement and mass-communication that happens through Twestival.
The visible passion and commitment is crucial to an initiative like Twestival in order to make online as well as offline action happen. And it shows how powerful well-targeted communication can be, even if it is being done in no more than 140 characters.
Doing PR for a good cause does not mean you necessarily need to save the world through your work, it can also be about encouraging transparency in corporate businesses, promoting creativity in the digital world, or even providing communication tools for people in remote parts of society.
There are evidently positive aspects of the PR industry and as graduates we will have the chance to practise these, and to show a sceptical public that there is more to public relations than spin, cover-ups, and desperate publicity stunts in Hollywood.