Thursday, April 17, 2008

Is PR or irresponsible editorial more evil?

This week I doubted the editorial policy of the Independent for the first time. Up until now the closest I had got to distain for the paper was brief but strong disgust over some of the more vivid cover photos they use, but in general I like the paper.

But this week they printed an article by a couple of professors from Strathclyde university which was utter nonsense. I don't usually talk about PR on my blog, nor do I overly defend it from the abuse the industry receives on a regular basis (abuse that lawyers and estate agents are also familiar with). But the fact is that PR is a fabulous industry to work in, and one that does a genuinely useful job; useful for journalists, corporations/charities, and useful for the general public.

These two lecturers are professors in Sociology, and noteably their biographies on their pet project site don't mention that they have ever actually worked in either journalism or PR themselves. It doesn't seem to stop them writing books about PR though...

So they have taken it upon themselves to write for the Indie (and the Indie has printed it without any sort of conscience about presenting a balanced viewpoint) about how PR is responsible for the death of democracy.

The thing that pisses me off most about this article (and yes, that is the first time I have used anything close to a swear word on this blog - I am that annoyed!) is that they largely confuse Public Relations with Public Affairs. Lobbying is usually deemed as PA rather than PR and most PR professionals rarely go near government affairs or lobbying.

In essence, PR is a clever marketing technique which helps guide consumers and businesses to part with their cash in a particular way. But broader than that PR enables organisations to communicate effectively with their public - whether it be a cancer charity looking to educate the men of Britain about prostate cancer or a technology vendor highlighting to customers a market dynamic that their product can help take advantage of. Most of what I do is about building reputations with a niche market (mobile messaging for example) targets mobile operators, not even consumers, and has nothing whatsoever to do with democracy.

To the intelligent consumer, PR ensures that the information they want to know is available to them and understandable by them. Journalists call my team and ask questions about our clients not because they are bad at their job but because they want to report correctly, and fact checking is a major part of their job. In turn, my team call the journalist to suggest an article idea because we are trained to think like journalists and know how to extract interesting stories from our clients.

Trust me - if the PR teams weren't around the quality of what you read would decrease dramatically because the information flow would stop (and if you had to read some of the ideas clients send through before we get our hands on them you would certainly stop buying the publication!)

PR is not evil... I certainly would not have known what laptop to buy a couple of months ago had there not been a wealth of online reviews supported by rafts of PR teams sending out reviews stock and answering journalist questions about hard disk capacity... and I can say with utter certainty that in 6 years in PR I have never done anything to jeopardise democracy.

Here endeth the lesson. Now, Professors, maybe go and get a few weeks work experience in an average PR agency before you write next time.

1 comment:

Oseon said...

Well said! And speaking of democracy, even professor have the freedom to choose which paper they read and who to call to verify facts...

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