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« The Ketchum Affair & PR Bloggers | Main | Heading up to Napa »

January 21, 2005


Neville Hobson

>I certainly agree that our professional societies should do more. But they are made up of us. We need to lobby the leadership more to pay attention to this.<

Thank you for saying this, Elizabeth. I was beginning to wonder whether I am a very lonely voice, or getting paranoid. Or both.

Lobbying the leadership of our professional association is indeed a course of action each of us with a view on this ethical matter should take. This goes beyond posting commentaries in blogs. That, though, is a highly transparent way, in my view, of drawing leaders' attention to the matter. But in case those leaders don't read blogs, then a direct lobbying approach is also needed.

I wrote yesterday to IABC Chair David Kistle and asked him directly - what is IABC's position here?

As I would imagine this is a matter for some discussion with the overall leadership, I haven't yet had any reply. I hope they don't take too long.


Oh, PR for PR.

Shel Holtz

It's not that I think the product PR people are more inherently unethical. It's just that product PR (or marcomm) is engaged less in reporting than it is in supporting marketing and advertising. As long as all PR is perceived to be part of that effort, people will continue to cast the rest of PR -- financial communications, media relations, corporate affairs, etc. -- in the same light: we're just there to sell product. Based on the comments to the Jay Rosen post, the belief that we're a support function of the advertising department is what separates us from journalists who are more concerned with "truth".

When I was at Mattel, nobody ever questioned whether the PR side of the Barbie effort was "spinning" a story. The issue only arose when the corporate PR efforts were blended with the Barbie, Hot Wheels and He-Man efforts in the audience's mind: "The communication about the product liability crisis is coming from the same people who are trying to sell the product, so it's automatically suspect."

I honestly don't know if a clearer separation is an answer -- I'm just throwing it out there for discussion. Investor relations is a form of PR -- management of the relationship between the company and the investment community -- and a distinct line has been drawn between that function and the rest of an organization's PR efforts. IR tends to have greater credibility. (They even have their own professional association.) So perhaps the clear separation of marcomm from institutional PR is worth considering.

I'm rambling, but that's just a reflection of how little I've thought this through. But it'll make for an interesting conversation.


Elizabeth Albrycht

Ok. Much clearer now and I see your point.

I have a lot of thinking to do on all of this as well...and it will indeed make for interesting conversation!

Mitch Wagner

My credibility issues with PR have nothing to do with blogging.

They have to do with usefulness.

I get 50 pitches from PR people every day. I get about a half-dozen a month I can use. So when I get a cold-call from a PR person, my first thought is, "This conversation is going to be a waste of my time."

Elizabeth Albrycht

Utility and credibility -- two things I think can be helped along by shining a light onto PR practice.

If PR practice is all done in the open -- for example, talking about a product/service/company in the form of a conversation on a blog that all can read vs. the blast email pitch/release technique we still all use for a variety of reasons -- I think that the utility of PR will increase as the useless BS will be exposed and, thus exposed, shrivel away. Plus, in this transparent environment we simply cannot be so diffuse in the spread of our "messages".

But -- and this is important to acknowledge -- PR practiced on this individual level is more labor intensive and time consuming. It also requires more thought, more initiative, and more independent action on the part of PR people (which is sometimes not allowed by clients or managers).

From an agency perspective (as a generalization of what I have observed), clients are often not willing to pay for the hours this costs (especially as it demands more senior in-the-trenches participation). An email blast of a release is dramatically less expensive and, combined with a little cherry picking, can achieve at least some minimal results.

Blogging and new communications tools are simply not far enough along yet to abandon the older techniques, but this means that it simply adds to the workload (already under pressure from budgets as mentioned above). Thus, the blast techniques continue.

And the arguments continue between those of us who want to change/improve practices and those who resist...I take Mitch off of my release database because I know he won't be interested and client says, "You sent the release to Mitch, right?" Me: "But it really isn't up his alley." "But he is really influential and it is sort-of up his alley -- its a stretch, but really, he should be covering our new industry-leading, ground-breaking, paradigm-shifting widget. So just send him the release and give him a quick call! That is what I am paying you for."


So Mitch, I think you have a very good point. If we can increase the utility of PR people through transparent practices, that might go a ways towards increasing credibility, which will help improve the perception of our industry.

It will, however, very likely demand changes in the business models of PR service provision (both agency and in-house).

Dwight Stickler

When PR practitioners and counselors are viewed as less then ethical it is typically because of the level of professionalism that our industry as a whole has demonstrated.

Would people like Mitch really be so incensed at receiving a call or email from a practitioner that has his best interests at heart rather then a practitioner that is trying to increase his billable hours with practices or strategies that don't really address his (Mitch's) various publics in a way that presents Mitch in a favorable light and engenders some measurable and positive attitude or shift in perception?

Just like every industry, PR has people who practice from profit motivation only and counselors who truly take the role of client's servant for their good.

How often could PR Professionals decline to "pitch" some idea or product because they know that the overall effect of their pitch is going to be to create negative perceptions among the majority of the client's publics even if it does provide some slight measure of return.

When PR practitioners begin to recognize that their responsiblities are to their clients and not their own pocketbooks, they may begin to enjoy a better reputation.

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