PR is a respectable profession, damn it, so let’s get rid of the bad actors

Autumn view of the City Hall from the library
Ah, the public relations profession, target of brickbats, jokes aspersions, and just plain bile from many fronts. I got into PR 10 years ago, based on the idea that my experience in mass communications (specifically, public radio) would make for an easy transition, and by and large that has gone well.

PR done well helps media content creators find and shape stories for their audiences, while providing a way for the PR client to be included in such stories. Sounds like a transaction, and in some ways it is, but done honestly and transparently it is, at its best, a gateway (rather than a gatekeeper) for information.

Lately, the PR profession has come under public attack, thanks to our black-sheep cousins, the public affairs reps. Most notably, the publication of former White House press secretary Scott McClellan’s new book started a round of “of course all public relations people lie, it’s a joke they have ethcics” pontificating from CBS legal analyst Andrew Cohen (cue lawyer jokes here– thanks).

Locally, in my home city of Newton, Massachusetts, we have had our own horrible example. Jeremy Solomon, spokesman for Mayor David Cohen, has been such a roadblock to getting any sort of information from the Mayor’s office.

Being a PR representative is extremely difficult when your client is under fire, but serving as an obstacle rather than as a provider of public relations advice shames the profession publicly, and shames you in front of the profession.

Solomon’s behavior– whether by his own counsel or at behest of the Mayor– has gotten so bad that the local paper, the Newton TAB, called him out publicly on their blog (“Jeremy, Please Do Your Job“).

Perhaps the paper’s editors are getting a bit high and mighty, but they are the main conduit through which we get our municipal news. If you shut them out, you shut out your customers– actually, your employers- the citizens of Newton.

I have observed this for years, and have always thought that people like Jeremy Solomon set a bad example for our profession and do much damage to the PR profession, even though I am not in public affairs. I am actually glad that the TAB chose to call him out in this fashion.

Do your job, Jeremy.

3 Comments

  1. Couldn’t agree more. We definitely need more truth in PR and even broader in marketing in general. It is sometimes not an easy thing to do since telling the whole truth sometimes requires more words than people are willing to read. And sometimes it is easier to cut corners. For example, the phrase compatible… it can mean different things to different people and it takes time to explain how maybe if it isn’t 100% compatible (and what really is, it would have to be an exact copy which wouldn’t be very interesting would it) the parts that aren’t compatible don’t really matter.

    But I think the key is your own bullshit meter.

    And then there are the clear cut examples like those you talk about here. In which case we need to develop a new title for these kinds of people. Or just officially adopt the derogatory ones people use to differentiate these people from the true PR and marketing professionals.

  2. Hi Doug,
    Thanks for this. I couldn’t agree more. I loved the way you framed PR professionals as a ‘gate keepers’ and it’s absolutely true.

    PR done right efficiently connects message senders with message receivers. It should never be about bribery or even “who you know”… it’s about connecting the right message to the right audience through the right vehicles.

    -Shelley

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