Does PR really have a PR problem?

Does PR really have a PR problem?

An article made its way around the Twittersphere recently highlighting people’s aversion to public relations professionals and the public’s cynicism surrounding the workings of PR. It was published by an industry bod in response to the first ever National PR Awareness Day – an attempt to improve the reputation of an industry that works to improve reputations!

However, strange and ironic as this is, it’s completely true- PR does have an image problem. And frankly it is down to those who work within the industry. For too long a sense of deception, of hoodwinking, of slyness has purveyed the world of PR. Many companies have assumed that they can fool a public who are more tuned into their world than ever before. This has created an air of mistrust and insincerity. It’s no wonder that public relations has become known as a ‘dark art’.

While I agree with most of the article there’s one major point I disagree with. Writing a press release, pitching it and watching the column inches grow was assumed, and still is by many, to create sales. And this has long been the way agencies justify their services. But this simplistic idea has moved on and it’s now argued that video hits, likes and SEO have become more relevant.

To me, with this valuation, the same issue persists. It boils down to the age old problem of how to measure the value of PR. Too many people place emphasis on raw numbers. This has led to a wave of uncreative public relations professionals writing un-newsworthy press releases and creating unimaginative campaigns which have now moved from the paper to the computer screen and the smart phone. If PR is to do with image how can that be quantified and assessed simply in terms of increasing numbers?

A primary problem has been an arrogance and laziness that many agencies practice. The media is constantly changing and so are its users. Understanding these changes and keeping one step ahead of them is vital to successful PR. Questions like what do people want to read? What do they want to watch? Is my product or service relevant to this? Is this giving a potential customer the information they need? With these often ignored a culture of ‘know it all ism’ has surfaced.

The world of advertising, journalism and even marketing are considered cool, people you’d like to go down to the pub with, but PR still has a long way to go. It’s time for PR agencies to become more human. If agencies got back to the idea of a two way conversation and spreading ideas, rather than forcing them upon people then maybe weary consumers might listen? The real task for the agencies of the future is not to simply create images and reputations for businesses but to embody them and cement them within a brand. Be on the side of the public and advise the client on how to do the same.


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