Musings of a PR Professional

A grim look at PR refuted

Whew! It’s been a busy week this week, and although this post is pretty delayed, I certainly didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to share my thoughts with you on USA Today‘s article, How public relations helps steer opinion and the news. The article is labeled by USA Today as a “Special” and is supposedly a review of the book PR: A Persuasive Industry: Spin, Public Relations, and the Shaping of the Modern Media. However, the article is more like an animal than it is a book review. What the author, Seth Brown, focuses on is essentially ragging on the PR field and its practitioners.

There are a number of reasons as to why I am simply not a fan at all of this article, but I would like to focus on two topics discussed by Brown in particular:

  • Lying is OK in PR: “A poll of insiders revealed that most don’t feel telling the truth is a duty of PR,” is a direct quote from the article. First, who are these “insiders”? And second, what poll? It is my firm belief, and also something that has been ingrained into my mind in the PR classes I have taken thus far, that lying is the biggest DON’T in PR there is.  Public relations is about establishing fruitful, long-term relationships with people, so what PR practitioner in their right mind thinks that it would be okay to lie to the people they depend upon so fiercely? This paragraph casts a horrible light on PR and its practitioners- that they are liars of no conscience.
  • Anyone can do PR: Brown writes, “Perhaps the most alluring thing about being a PR consultant is that no formal training is required: no certification, no universally acknowledged test, no courses offered at many prestigious universities (although some colleges offer PR studies). ” While this fact is largely true, the implications of this statement is not. Essentially, the article makes it sound as if every PR practitioner out there is a hack who has no idea about a. What they’re doing or b. What their purpose is. This is simply not the case. I read enough blogs and have been presented with actual PR examples to know that PR is done well everyday.

In conclusion:

I think it’s pretty ludicrous to make the sweeping generalizations about public relations that this article does. Granted, there are PR practitioners out there who are not necessarily beacons of ethics or integrity, but those people are the minority. Most practitioners genuinely care about their job and clients and work extremely hard and are very good at what they do. So what if it’s harder to measure PR efforts than it is to measure advertising or marketing ones? That doesn’t mean PR is any less legitimate, it simply means that good public relations works without people realizing anything has happened at all.


(Not to mention the barrage of angry comments left by people at the bottom of the page after the end of the article- you should take a look at them, most of them have very positive, valid and true points about PR.)

Trying too hard to be newsworthy

Finding a relevant news angle gone wrong: check out this post from the Bad Pitch Blog. It shows how finding something newsworthy about your product, organization, etc. is an art form that can be (and is) butchered.

Looks for Life Fundraiser

On Thursday, January 29th, I lost one of my good friends from my hometown, Casey, to suicide. While the circumstances are tragic, I have found an example of good PR that has really touched me and the members of the community who knew her. I was invited by one of my friends who was also very close to Casey on Facebook to join the event page for Looks for Life. Looks for Life is an all-day fundraiser in which LOOKS Salon and Spa is offering its services for half price and then donating all of their profits to support Grassroots for Suicide Prevention. There will be free food, music, and and a silent auction and raffle as well to raise money.

This is absolutely wonderful PR for LOOKS Salon and Spa. Employees of LOOKS have been touched by suicide and for seven years now have banded together to support one another and others who have been effected too. The business holds a position in which it can do something to help decrease instances of suicide and has shown its compassion and caring for the community by putting together this event. This company does not have to take a day out of the year to cut their profits for a good cause, but they do which establishes impeccable credibility (through goodwill) and shows that there is an important and valued link between them and the members of  their publics.

Are you listening to me?

Just moments ago I finished reading chapter seven in my Interpersonal Communication textbook, Listening: Understanding and Supporting Others. This is a chapter that every single PRo out there who is just beginning to get their feet wet (or has been dabbling for a while) should read and become extremely familiar with.

According to the text, we spend 70% of our time communicating every day, and 45% of that listening.

Because the name of the game in Public Relations (thanks to social media)  now is cultivating and maintaining authentic and personalrelationships, listening needs to be understood as something more than hearing. It is one of the fundamental skills one needs to have to create the successful and beneficial relationships every PRo strives for. Listening effectively involves giving thoughtful attention to what someone is discussing both when their message is significant to you and/or when a person that is important to you is talking about something that is significant to them. I have summarized the most important ways to listen effectively (as outlined in the text):

  • Eliminate the physical and psychological noise in the evnioronment in which you are listening.
  • Give the person speaking your undivided attention, and when your mind begins to wander, take note of it and get back on track.
  • Give the person the appropriate feedback for the situation.

The third bullet is one of the most important tenets of effective listening. It is in the responses we give people while we are listening that signal to them how we really feel. Now, let’s apply this idea to building the relationships between organizations and their stakeholders. In the blogoshpere, it is appropriate to comment and provide relevant and sometimes heuristic feedback to the author’s posts. It shows you are engaged in who they are and what they are talking about, so that when the opportunity arises to pitch to them, you are not some self-serving stranger coming out of left field. You will be much more well received because you will have become a friend.

The Buzz Bin blog of Livingston Communications expands on the idea of connecting with people further in their latest post.