Upholding PR Standards Starts With the Small Things

    February 4, 2005

Will you join with me and other PR bloggers in a grassroots blogging campaign to help raise the perception of the public relations industry …

… asked Steven Phenix of The Alliant Group in Austin, Texas, in an email yesterday.

Happy to, I replied. PR’s been getting a lot of, well, bad PR lately, as illustrated by the Armstrong Williams and Ketchum ethics issue that’s had lots of blogosphere discussion. Also see an interesting analysis by Nick Wreden (thanks, Colby, for the link) with some pithy suggestions on what Ketchum should have done once the scandal became public. Then take a look at CNN’s report last week when President Bush denounced paying commentators, referring specifically to this matter.

In light of all this, Steven’s request has had me thinking: help raise the perception of the public relations industry. That’s seems to be quite a tall order.

Let’s look at a couple of definitions of PR:

  1. The Public Relations Society of America says: “Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other” (and see the PRSA page for a detailed analysis of this definition).
  2. The Institute of Public Relations in the UK says: “‘Public relations practice is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organization and its publics.”

Well, many people say that PR certainly hasn’t served anyone’s publics in light of ‘Ketchumgate’ or whatever you want to call it. When US press critic and writer Jay Rosen slammed the PR bloggers for not taking a stand on the ethics issues, that generated lots of lively discussion to his post, and resulted in subsequent posts with more discussion.

What I noted in the comments to Rosen’s posts were far too many people adding opinions saying, basically, that they weren’t surprised because all PR does is spin things and tell untruths, so no one should be surprised at all to read about payola in PR.

What a sorry situation for a profession! Yet this isn’t new, neither is it just the PR profession (and we all know those bad jokes about lawyers – what does that say for what people think about that profession?). That’s certainly not excusing it, just saying it’s not new.

Other than every PR professional taking an individual stand in the absence of any stand for the profession by any professional association, what’s to be done? What can any PR professional do to raise the perception of PR as an honourable profession?

I think each one of us can do many things on our own account. Here are just three:

  1. Do your job to the best of your ability, in the most professional way you can.
  2. By your deeds, demonstrate to your employer and/or your clients that you are professional, are honest and have high personal standards of integrity.
  3. Make your own personal commitment to follow your professional association’s code of ethics to the best of your ability. A good guide for this is IABC’s Code of Ethics.

The thing is, individually we can’t change an awful lot, especially when it’s just a matter of time before the next Ketchumgate arrives. Yes, that may look like a cynical view but I think it’s just realistic. Unfortunately.

But be true to yourself. It’s the small things that do make a difference.

Neville Hobson is the author of the popular NevilleHobson.com blog which focuses on business communication and technology.

Neville is currentlly the VP of New Marketing at Crayon. Visit Neville Hobson’s blog: NevilleHobson.com.