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Gini Dietrich

Call for Regulation In the PR Industry

By: Gini Dietrich | March 14, 2012 | 
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Have I mentioned before that Spin Sucks?

No?

Huh. Well, Spin Sucks.

Particularly in the case of The Guardian, which just published a blog post titled, “Have You Ever Been Lied to By a PR?” Which, apparently, was in response to a Press-Gazette blog post, by the editor, with the same title.

The gist of it is all PR professionals (at least in the U.K., though he makes mention to all of us) are liars…or, at the very least, stretch the truth.

In my experience, PRs have not lied but several of them have been extremely economical with the truth.

And some have spun negatives into positives with a breathtakingly cavalier attitude towards the reality.

I’m not going to pretend we’re all Pollyanna and none of us are unethical. That’s just not true. But to paint all of us in this light drives me crazy.

And it’s not just The Guardian. When the New York Times reported on the new PR definition, the meta description they used was, “People submitted 927 proposals in an effort to update the definition of public relations for an age of social media and spin doctors.”

The vision of Spin Sucks Pro is to change the perception of the industry through daily professional development and education. But it’s an uphill battle when we have national, and international, media using their experiences with a handful of unethical PR professionals to perpetuate the perception we’re all liars, thieves, and spin doctors.

Perhaps part of the reason is our industry organizations (PRSA, IABC, CIPR, CPRS, IPRA, etc.) don’t regulate the industry. The barrier to entry is extremely low. Of course, every one of us is a communicator, so how hard can it be? We aren’t required to test or take boards or prove we know what we’re doing.

We can just open shop or join a company and call ourselves PR professionals.

Last May, when it came out Burson Marsteller was working with Facebook to smear Google, I was astounded. After all, they are one of the biggest and best agencies in the world. And Harold Burson, we know, wouldn’t approve.

So I called my friends at PRSA and asked why the heck they weren’t doing anything about it. After all, we’re all supposed to be working within the code of ethics – in our contracts, in our client work, and in our dealings with the public (which also includes media).

But, as it turns out, PRSA is a membership organization, which means they’re there to serve the members, but they have no authority to punish or remove professionals from the industry.

Yes, there are some unethical PR professionals. As it turns out, it’s not just in PR. There are unethical people in every profession.

Why is our industry painted in such a poor light all the time?

It’s time to regulate the industry. It looks to be the only way we can manage our own reputations.

Spin Sucks.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

151 comments
ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@SashaHalima That one caused some controversy

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@CatherineMcNair It might actually get us close to a solution that is not regulation

Trace_Cohen
Trace_Cohen

Our industry is painted in such a poor light all the time because we rely on someone else to make us look good. While media relations aren’t everything we do, it’s what we are known for. Sometimes it does work out the way we want, so the client gets angry and say they wasted all this time and money on PR for nothing. On the other side, we are all calling, emailing and meeting the media at events on behalf of our clients and they obviously become overwhelmed with “news” that they can’t physically or financially cover. They then complain about spam and mass emails to their audience and we have no rebuttal. Our industry is between a rock and a hard place.

 

Interestingly enough though, the industry continues to grow for a few reasons. The first is that there are so many new companies that need strategic communications and thought leadership to help with media relations. Secondly, the big media that we are always trying to get in is crumbling at our feet. Really smart and talented writers/journalists/columnists are being laid off because their company’s business models are not sustainable anymore. So where do they go? Many of them have joined the PR ranks because of their media background but mostly because of their writing skills. And third, is because social media has created a direct avenue to our customers. We no longer have to rely on someone else to get the story wrong or mess up the facts, we can write the story that we want written about us and begin to take credit for it. In a world of transparency and honest discussions, companies are breaking their own news.

 

The NYT and other large media outlets are calling us out because they are scared. Scared that we can replace them, so they put down our profession so that we continue to rely on them.

 

With regard to “regulation,” that is the last thing that I want. It just brings up the questions of who will be apart of it, how do we elect them, how do we enforce certain principles and is it even worth our time? Can you really kick someone out of their profession and will that actually stop them from doing it? The only regulations I care about are my colleagues, clients and their customers. In the highly transparent world that we live in, anyone can call you out for “spin” and I hope that they do so that you never do it again.

 

Frank_Strong
Frank_Strong

Seems you sort of check off regulation, in so far as a government conducting the regulation. That's good!  Government is not the answer and it scares me to think it's a step towards to moderating free speech. But perhaps there's a Better Business Bureau model, or a Good Housekeeping seal of approval so to speak, with a little badge like your AdAge Power 150. 

Latest blog post: The essence of the PR's drama

maragarettate
maragarettate

Regulating the industry won’t be a solution I believe. It’s the job of a PR professional to modify the facts, hide what should not be known to everyone, and present the remaining in such a way that it sounds true. And they will keep doing it. You ban one and company will find a replacement.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@ThePaulSutton Happy day after your birthday!

PLHolden
PLHolden

Ethics is a funny thing in business. We all want it, but for many companies it's detrimental. Anyone the media who isn't prepared to do their homework about the motives behind corporate (& government) decisions is probably missing the point of well-rounded reporting. PR personnel are paid by the companies to put things in a positive light, duh:)

Nic_Cartwright
Nic_Cartwright

Accountants = boring 

Sales folk = shysters 

Techies = nerds

Human Resources = devil worshippers

PR = DJ's of Spin...

 

The white collar workers of whatever creed tend to get labelled.

 

As the old saying goes - sticks and stones may be used by the proletariat workers, but names can only be thrown at the executive..

 

I admire anyone who can find time and success to change the world (whilst continuing to excel in their own field) - so wish you 'bon chance!!"

pocojuan
pocojuan

@ginidietrich Gini agree about perception but not reg. If it's cognitive thr is an abys btwn motivation intent action percept Lets talk ph

jepotts
jepotts

@rjfrasca @ginidietrich "The barrier to entry is extremely low." It's the same in journalism.

DavidCRoberts
DavidCRoberts

@ginidietrich Banking has a huge barrier to entry and massive regulation, and it's reputation is in tatters

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@dc2fla Or, at the very least, get people fired up

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

I heard there is a really well read popular blog that is proof that many thoughtleaders in PR/Marketing/Advertising are for honesty and transparency but I can't seem to find the link!

Tyler Orchard
Tyler Orchard

I really enjoyed this post, Gini. As you know I have a strong interest in the whole ethics debate/discussion. You raise an interesting point of regulation. The PR professional, in any industry, is often viewed a little bit skeptically, which is unfortunate because we all know that every PR professional doesn't fit those unflattering stereotypes.  I think regulation is definitely an option to consider, I just wonder what repercussions it would have and how enforceable would those laws/regulations be. My fear would be that it affects those who are ethical to begin with, more than those who are not in terms of red tape, barriers etc. Regulation is definitely a step in the right direction - I agree with you on this and I think there needs to be certain benchmarks for entry and continuation within the industry. It's important to not only focus on the entry, but also the progression of a person within the industry. However, I would state that with externally imposed regulations, there needs to be a bigger push for intrinsic ethical preservation and oversight - the only thing with that is that it's pretty close near impossible to teach others to be ethical and value-oriented at their core. As always, great post, Gini. It makes you really think about the future of the industry.

normanmonkey
normanmonkey

@ginidietrich I think they are being too generous

ErinMFeldman
ErinMFeldman

@ginidietrich Of writers, too. We can spin with the best of them. ;-)

JackMonson
JackMonson

If you think PR is in trouble now, add a layer of government regulations on top and see how fast it dies. Bigger government involvement is never an answer. Standing out in the crowd and offering a better service is ... i.e. showing that you're not one of "THOSE PR people"...

econwriter5
econwriter5

@rtrviews @ginidietrich "PRs have not lied but several of them have been extremely economical with the truth." The line is...where?

Leon
Leon

G'Day Gini,

From this distance, I'd have thought that you're more Ann of Green Gables than Pollyanna. But that's a curmudgeonly view........

 

As a user , not a practitioner of PR, I agree with thornley. There are "cardsharps and crapshooters" in every industry. Regulation almost inevitably leads to formal qualification which leads to academic posturing and more work for lawyers. Let's face it. Having a nation chock ful lof MBAs hasn't done much for the quality of management.

 

I dunno the answer. I suspect that there isn't one, but many. But have fin while you find out.

Best Wishes 

Leon

SashaHalima
SashaHalima

@ginidietrich I know, I saw - but in a good way! Interested in another guest on LPB? Would loveee you to post as I do heart you, you know :)

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @Trace_Cohen You know I agree with you, which is the entire purpose of this blog. But, lately, I've been feeling like doing good work, calling out the bad PR pros, and highlighting the good ones is too naive. I don't know what the right answer is, but I'm going to continue to push to find it.

Latest blog post: Cash Is King Or You Are Dead

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @Frank_Strong Yeah...we've been exploring accreditation. It has a pretty big cost to it and it'd have to be industry-wide and you should be able to keep it, if you keep up with it, no matter if you're a member of the industry organizations or not. Lots of work to do!

Latest blog post: Cash Is King Or You Are Dead

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @maragarettate I totally disagree. I've never modified the facts or hidden what should be known to everyone. And many, many of my peers never have either. This is what causes a perception issue. It's just not true.

Latest blog post: #FollowFriday: Kevin Fawley

ThePaulSutton
ThePaulSutton

@ginidietrich ha! Thanks Gini. Just got home from a couple of fantastic days away

KaseyCrabtree
KaseyCrabtree

@ginidietrich hello back to you... it's been too long since we've chatted. All good with you?

debdobson
debdobson

@ginidietrich So, you interested in meeting me IRL sooner than in Columbus in May??

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @Tyler Orchard I think I used the wrong word when I said "regulation." I don't see it as a governing body that is run by the government with lots of red tape. Rather, a set of standards that require you to be licensed to practice. Just like you have to take the bar exam to practice law, you have to do the same for any professional services business, including PR. Maybe that's regulation...maybe it's more licensing and continuing education to keep up your certification.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

 @Tyler Orchard In the US we can't regulate. If you watch the TV in politically charged states each side is allowed to blatantly lie and deceive to win elections and no one goes to jail. Unless we start there we can't go after PR or Advertising etc. And the liars win elections. The cheaters in the US win almost always. Not sure why. Look at housing/derivatives and the lack of jail but massive fortunes built. The baseball steroid era. Etc Etc.

 

And we always do a horrible job of over regulating things or allowing special interests to twist things for the benefit of one group.

 

What I am curious about is if in canada is lack of ethics rewarded as much as it is in the US?

 

 

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @JackMonson I'm beginning to think that isn't enough, Jack. I mean, I have an entire blog committed to changing the perception, but a couple of hits from major newspapers and we're thrown back 20,000 feet. It really is true when they say the good guy finishes last.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@econwriter5 The line is between not being able to get the answer and trying to please everyone

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @Leon Most days it's fun, Leon. Some days it's so frustrating. I feel like going on a media tour to talk to all of the editorial boards at the major media around the world. Will you fund that for me?

suegrimm
suegrimm

 @ginidietrich  @PLHolden Wow.  I realized this hit a pretty serious chord with me because I would never ever recommend someone lie and I hate that people think that's what PR is about.  Gini, I greatly admire what you are trying to do and that's why I am drawn in and I want so badly to believe that most of us adhere to ethical standards.  I'm by no means perfect, but I believe the wrong type of spin can seriously damage anyone I am being paid to help. Maybe I live in a fairy tale.  I've been struggling as I get my business going as to what I want to call myself and what group to join, and the funny thing is, I keep pulling back from PR and this is probably the biggest reason why.  It's not an easy profession so maybe I just write for people and keep it simple and say been there done that.  But based on my reaction yesterday, I'm thinking you may suck me in yet :-)  So good for you for bringing this up and staying with the discussion like you did.  Don't know if I could have done it.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@KaseyCrabtree Things are good. Traveling a ton. How are you??

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@debdobson Did you not get my response to your email??

SashaHalima
SashaHalima

@ginidietrich *yay!!!* I'll email you tonight :)

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @suegrimm  None of us are perfect and, by no means do I have the answer. But I think PRSA is the most poised organization to push this through. If @arthury and I can agree on something, perhaps it happens. Or, at the very least, can we please get Stuart Elliott to stop calling us spin doctors?

debdobson
debdobson

@ginidietrich Yeah, sucks to be honest, but it is what it is. How are you my friend? Can't wait to see you.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@debdobson I've heard about those laws ...

debdobson
debdobson

@ginidietrich Must have been after I left the office. C/t access it after hours (hourly employee now - both benefit and not).

Trackbacks

  1. […] Call for Regulation In the PR Industry – I don’t get into PR discussions too much these days. It is mostly because I really don’t practice it all that much. This post from Gini Dietrich piqued my interest because it is a hot-button topic and caused a good stir. Where do you stand on the issue? […]

  2. […] There’s an interesting, relevant discussion going on over at Gini Dietrich’s Spin Sucks blog about her proposal to somehow regulate the public relations industry. One idea is for required […]

  3. […] All PR Pros Are Not Liars. In response to The Guardian blog post I wrote about earlier this week, PRSA CEO, Gerald Corbett writes an OpEd discussing why all PR pros are […]

  4. […] The latest call for regulating public relations came recently from a friend of mine, Gini Dietrich. You can read her comments here. […]

  5. […] The latest call for regulating public relations came recently from a friend of mine, Gini Dietrich. You can read her comments here. […]

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  7. […] agree with her commentary, I think she’s completely wrong when she responds to the above with the suggestion that “It’s time to regulate the industry. It looks to be the only way we can manage our own […]

  8. […] All PR Pros Are Not Liars. In response to The Guardian blog post I wrote about earlier this week, PRSA CEO, Gerald Corbett writes an OpEd discussing why all PR pros are […]