PR: The Lying Profession?

Filed as Features on March 2, 2007 4:00 pm

by Ed Lee

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I was shocked and appalled to hear that back in my native UK, the truth lost to subterfuge lies and deception. PRWeek, the industry trade publication, was hosting a debate where the motion discussed was PRs have a duty to tell the truth.

The motion was defeated by 138 votes to 124.

In my first post for the Blog Herald, I opined that social media is bringing a seismic change to the PR industry. We’re moving away from a top-down, spin heavy, heavy handed control of the message to openness, honesty, transparency and spin free messaging.

Clearly I was wrong. Clearly PR is, indeed, the lying profession.

I should probably polish my self-awarded halo here and say that I’ve never lied to a reporter. There was one time where I promised someone an interview with the CEO; a CEO I had overbooked and who ran out of time. I think that was the closest I came.

The opposite side to the motion was that PR’s duty is not to the truth, but to the client. After all, we’re being paid by them and we’re not journalists. Most PRs and most businesses are not in the mood to bite the hand that feeds them.

But while we’re not journalists, bound by journalistic standards, we still produce content. I’m blogging here and there are near enough to a 1000 PR bloggers, in the form of students, academics, clients, agencies and satirists, out there blogging about PR.

Amanda Chapel’s post (referenced above) also covers exactly this in more eloquent detail.

Our new initiatives such as blogs, podcasts and the new news release are all direct communications with our audience. Canadian freelance technology journalist Danny Bradbury recently expressed his concern over a comment on the Weblo launch release that called it an “article”.

And with this lying epidemic, he’s right to be concerned.

But I have a middle ground. A way PRs can be beholden to both the client, to the audience and subsequently, the truth.

I’ve always thought that PR’s greatest asset is our media intelligence. How we can predict what is and what won’t be a good story and how to generate media coverage. But how often do we turn this intelligence 180 degrees and focus it on the client organization?

Not much. Most of our work is executional. Clients give us a specific task or problem to solve and we solve it. Sometimes we solve it very well.

But this approach is more about fixing the symptom of needing media coverage, rather than the problem of a being a company no one wants to cover.

So my solution is this: PRs should be consulting with companies on how they can become more ethical, more transparent, more honest in their day to day business practices.

It won’t be easy, it won’t be cheap, it won’t be a quick fix. It’ll take time, it’ll take immersion in the client business and the benefits won’t be seen until the organization has changed. But once that change has been made, you won’t be able to keep up with the media coverage, or the orders, coming in.

Additional Links:

A recap of the debate

Strumpette’s take including a remarkably similar title. My bad.
The Bulldog Reporter
Jeff Jarvis
The Register

**UPDATE** If you’re a PR, you have until Wednesday, March 7 2007 vote on the motion. Email your vote to [email protected] (Tip of the hat to Lionel Zetter)

Ed Lee is a Senior Consultant, Internet Communications, at Canadian Internet Consultancy iStudio. He blogs on PR, marketing and social media at Blogging Me Blogging You.

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  1. By Amanda Chapel posted on March 2, 2007 at 6:33 pm
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    Ed,

    Sorry but I kinda like this version (http://tinyurl.com/2o4rfx ) of “PR: The Lying Profession” better. Much more detailed. More fully vetted.

    :)

    Amanda Chapel
    Managing Editor
    Strumpette

  2. By Amanda posted on March 2, 2007 at 9:12 pm
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    I dont think its so much as lying as its spinning and expanding on the truth sometimes they are straight out lies but then others aren’t always what they seem to be.

  3. By Andy Merrett posted on March 2, 2007 at 10:20 pm
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    Sorry I like this version better – much more ‘vetted’ – [link to own website disguised via a tinyurl] – oh no wait I haven’t written it yet. D’oh.

  4. By rich pilkington posted on March 3, 2007 at 4:27 am
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    Press release have less and less impact and ability to position a company – hyperbolic press releases – other than just the facts – means the product might have a problem…

  5. By Jason Ryan posted on March 6, 2007 at 6:10 am
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    PRs should be consulting with companies on how they can become more ethical, more transparent, more honest in their day to day business practices.

    Absolutely. Unless we act as an agent for change within the organisation, trying to align their behaviours & practices with their customers/stakeholders expectations, then we aren’t really doing the job: it is more about the public than just relations…