Gini Dietrich

Call for Regulation In the PR Industry

By: Gini Dietrich | March 14, 2012 | 
161

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, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

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161 responses to “Call for Regulation In the PR Industry”

  1. si_francis says:

    Just blithly stating that we need to regulate PR is a very dangerous statement.
     
    How? By Who? And to what end?
     
    Does this mean only ‘accredited’ practicioners can contact the media? Or politicians? And only registered, vetted, users can post blogs, edit wikipedia or even Tweet? And how does this work in a global age?
     
    You can’t regulate a profession without sanctions for offenders and those outside the regulatory framework. But surely no-one would suppport banning individuals or pressure groups from participating in ‘PR’ activities?
     
    So call for more action by industry bodies, better global co-ordination, more responsibility among agencies, but be careful when you wish for regulation – it’s the thin end of an anti-democratic wedge.
     
     

    • ginidietrich says:

       @si_francis Yes, I agree. And yes to all of your questions. I don’t know how we do it, or what it would take to get there, but I don’t agree it’s the thin end of an anti-democratic wedge. Unless you have a different idea for sanctions for offenders and increasing the reputation of the industry?

      • si_francis says:

         @ginidietrich I think these are two, valid, discussions. First about increasing reputation (which the PRSA definition work is a fine, if not consumer-friendly, first step on) and second about how we prevent bad practice and rogue operators.
         
        Solutions to both problems lie in communication, not regulation. Doing more to educate the public about what PR does is vital. But also, educating business leaders and clients about what is acceptable is also important.
         
        How we do both of these things is what I’d like to see more discussion (and action!) on.
         
        I’ve written more on the anti-democratic argument on my blog… http://ramblingsofapr.com/2011/11/10/public-affairs-lobbying-ban/

        • ginidietrich says:

           @si_francis I can get behind more education of what PR does. It’s certainly what I spend my days doing here on this blog. But I fear there are many organizations inside the industry (BM, for instance) who either don’t care or are more worried about money so it hurts all of the education and work we’re doing.
           
          I also think we need industry-wide metrics that mean something. 
           
          I’m off to read your blog post.

    • KeithTrivitt says:

      @si_francis
      Agreed. The notion of regulating any industry is not something to be taken lightly. It would mean dramatic changes within the PR industry. It’s also not a notion we should be throwing about unless those who raise the issue are serious about facing the consequences of full government regulation: increased costs of doing business, licensing, oversight for even the tiniest of mistakes. Not to mention the crippling of innovation that has led to significant growth in the profession over the past decade.
       
      There is no doubt that the PR industry as a whole must step up and do more to practice in an ethical and responsible manner. And as many have written in these comments, one way in which that can be done is through more frequent action by global bodies, such as PRSA, the Council of Public Relations Firms, CIPR, etc. But as others have pointed out, PRSA is a membership organization, not a trade group. Our 32,000 members all agree to abide by a stringent Code of Ethics, and we speak out frequently whenever we feel the profession has strayed away from those ethical standards.
       
      But throwing out the notion that PR should be a regulated industry, especially given our country’s 200-plus-year history of strongly defending freedom of speech rights (which undergird almost everything PR pros do) is not the answer to what ails the profession. The answer, in my opinion, is more personal accountability by each and every professional. We must hold ourselves accountable for our own actions as well as the actions of our peers.
       
      That is called self-regulation and it is a practice that has worked for decades in many industries that would be several limited by regulation.
       
      Keith Trivitt
      Associate Director
      PRSA

  2. ginidietrich says:

    @NancyCawleyJean I saw @geoffliving’s photos of you. So bummed I wasn’t in Austin

  3. KenMueller says:

    This is a tough call. Regulation, to me, is dangerous. One would hope that an industry can regulate itself, somehow, without set rules, per se. I wish I knew how to do this. I really do. But I just don’t see it. 

    • ginidietrich says:

       @KenMueller But the problem is, it’s not regulating itself. Lawyers are regulated. So are accountants. Both have to keep up on continuing education. Both are professional services businesses. What’s wrong with imposing some sanctions for offenders so we can improve our perception? 
       
      We also need industry-wide metrics that mean something (not impressions or advertising equivalency). You know I’m willing to do the work and create a group of people to move it forward…if I can figure out the right answer.

      • KenMueller says:

         @ginidietrich The issue is getting people to sign on. It’s been unregulated so long I don’t know how to make it work. Even a group like PRSA doesn’t have everyone on board.
         
        At this moment I’m sitting in a college library. I was checking out the new book shelf, and there are at least two dozen PR books there, everything from broad theory and practical advice, to more narrowly focused books on crisis management and brand reputation. And yet I have no clue what they are teaching. I don’t know the underlying perspective of each of them. I know this college has a solid PR/Communications major, but there is so much out there. And it all feeds in to how the PR industry behaves. 
         
        No answers, just thinking out loud…

        • ginidietrich says:

           @KenMueller Perhaps we start with industry-wide metrics and set standards for the way things are done? And even required continuing education. 

        • KenMueller says:

           @ginidietrich That would help. I’m reading some of the books now, looking particularly at the chapters/sections on measurement…and even in these books they don’t seem to agree.

        • ginidietrich says:

           @KenMueller I know. 🙁 And most of the books today spend less than three pages on measurement. It hurts me.

        • KenMueller says:

           @ginidietrich Well, the good news is, I’m seeing them discount the concept of AVEs. The bad news is…you’re right. This one book is 900 pages long. Not sure it even has 3 pages. They mention MMM as one solution.

        • ginidietrich says:

           @KenMueller Sigh…

        • rustyspeidel says:

           @ginidietrich  @KenMueller Maybe you, Gini, create that standard. Get it adopted by the PRSA and others. Drive this! Many of us would be happy to help. I agree with you that BS and spin are bad for the clients and the business. 

        • rustyspeidel says:

           @KenMueller  @ginidietrich that’s a 4-year-old concept. 

        • ginidietrich says:

           @rustyspeidel  @KenMueller If I can figure out the right answer, I will. I have no problem doing that if we keep the discussion going and figure out the right tact to take.

        • HowieSPM says:

           @rustyspeidel  @ginidietrich  @KenMueller I think the PRSA/Industry needs a Facebook Page. It would solve everything.

      • rustyspeidel says:

         @ginidietrich  @KenMueller But that hasn’t stopped both lawyers and accountants from regularly breaking their own rules. Can you say Arthur Andersen? 

        • ginidietrich says:

           @rustyspeidel  @KenMueller True. But, in that case, they went out of business. People lost their jobs. We can’t stop it from happening. We can stop it from continuing to happen.

        • rustyspeidel says:

           @ginidietrich  @KenMueller Are they regulated by the government, or just each other? I mean, where’s the recourse when a Burson pulls a big lie? Courts? 

      •  @ginidietrich Be careful what you wish for. Lawyers are self regulated and the state by state requirements are a total mess. There is little/no ability to cross state lines and practice in another state – because the would be lawyer hasn’t bowed to that state’s governing body sufficiently – generally speaking that means passing another bar exam – a mode of certification most lawyers would agree bears no relation to a lawyer’s ability to practice law.
         
        I could go on about this for hours.
         
        The grass isn’t necessarily greener.

  4. To me, this is long overdue. We need standards. PR has the reputation it has is because it is consistently on the front lines talking to the media and the public. I am constantly disgusted by the unethical actions the minority take and the wide-sweeping publicity they get. These, unfortunately, are the people who are painting our pictures. The media will only take so much before they can take no more.
     
    Other unethical professionals get the time to hide behind the interiors of their companies or industries and take tons of time to vet them out.
     
    The actions of the few affect the reputations of the many. It’s time the many take the reigns and rejuvenate our collective reputation. 

    • ginidietrich says:

       @Anthony_Rodriguez And it’s really affecting us. I feel like it’s worse now than it has been in years. And the thing that bothers me the most is media relations is nearly dead. Journalists now have direct access to companies via the social web and can bypass the PR pro, if they choose. So why continue the PR flack image?

      •  @ginidietrich It’s the me-first mentality. As long as ‘I’ get paid or ‘I’ am the first to report this breaking news, that’s all that matters.

        • ginidietrich says:

           @Anthony_Rodriguez I know. It sucks.

        • rustyspeidel says:

           @Anthony_Rodriguez  @ginidietrich This is happening in other industries too, like real estate. The public is doing their own research and their own deals, to the detriment of the industry. How can we take the lead in ENABLING and EMPOWERING GOOD BEHAVIOR?

  5. rustyspeidel says:

    I’m not sure regulation is the answer, but leadership sure might be. Why are these “governing bodies” not driving ethical discussions home harder? Why aren’t the major firms being taken to task publicly for their ethical breaches? Or better yet, why aren’t they LEADING this charge? It seems like we already have a set of standards, so why not police them better? PRSA seems like a logical starting point for that, however weak they may be right now. But if industry credibility goes south, so does the industry, and so do they.
     
    It’s hard to regulate ideas, communication, and persuasion. We already have slander and libel laws, although lately it’s hard to tell. All we can do is lead by strong example and maybe do a better job of calling out the bad pennies. There will always be unethical clients willing to pay for unethical behavior. It’s the responsibility of everyone to call it out, or turn that work down. Where’s the press in all this? Why do they support these ideas without due diligence? Why aren’t we making sure they get it right?
     
    Seems like all the pieces are there, but it’s a willingness to BE ETHICAL that’s weakened right now. And you know how the press loves a little scandal…

    • ginidietrich says:

       @rustyspeidel I don’t agree we have a set of standards. Or, if we do, they’re not being followed. When the whole Burson mess happened, I was told there was nothing PRSA can do because they’re a membership organization, not a regulatory board. Which means our industry has no set of standards, no industry-wide metrics, we can’t get even get the definition right. 
       
      Perhaps it’s a case of the shoemaker’s children. But I won’t settle for that.

      • rustyspeidel says:

         @ginidietrich See my comment below. You should NOT settle!! You should lead the charge! We will help. If we can.

      •  @ginidietrich  @rustyspeidel Perhaps PRSA should make guidelines around what you are suggesting Gini. They may not be a regulatory board, but they can create best practices PR professionals should follow. It would be the easiest way to get around the fact they are not a regulatory board.

        • rustyspeidel says:

           @Anthony_Rodriguez  @ginidietrich What’s interesting is that these membership organizations are being bypassed as professionals go straight to the public. There’s no reason they could not publish more vigorously on standards and ethics. 

        • ginidietrich says:

           @rustyspeidel  @Anthony_Rodriguez In the response Gerald Corbett wrote to the Guardian, he said all members are required to abide by the code of ethics. Which is great. And most of us do. And then a big agency gets caught in a whisper campaign and nothing happens. Well, not entirely true. They had to have some ethics training that was self-sanctioned. Big whoop.

        • rustyspeidel says:

           @ginidietrich  @Anthony_Rodriguez So what should happen in that case?

        • ginidietrich says:

           @rustyspeidel  @Anthony_Rodriguez If we were doctors or lawyers, the guys leading that campaign would have lost their jobs and wouldn’t have been able to work in the industry again.

        • rustyspeidel says:

           @ginidietrich  @Anthony_Rodriguez So why can’t that happen now? Why can’t the reputations of these unethical firms be destroyed?

        • KeithTrivitt says:

           @Anthony_Rodriguez PRSA already has a wide range of best practices regarding ethics in the profession. We provides these through a regular series of Professional Standards Advisories (http://ow.ly/9EiEZ), which are updates to the PRSA Code of Ethics.
           
          This is on top of our frequent commentary on the issue of ethics in PR. Just last week, we had an op-ed, explaining and defending the ethical standards in PR, published in The Guardian (http://gu.com/p/364cn/tw), which was in direct response to the The Guardian piece that Gini cites at the beginning of this post.
           
          Keith Trivitt
          Associate Director
          PRSA

        • KeithTrivitt says:

          @Anthony_Rodriguez PRSA has a wide range of best practices regarding ethics in the profession. We provides these through a regular series of Professional Standards Advisories (http://ow.ly/9EiEZ), which are updates to the PRSA Code of Ethics.
           
          This is on top of our frequent commentary on the issue of ethics in PR. Just last week, we had an op-ed, explaining and defending the ethical standards in PR, published in The Guardian (http://gu.com/p/364cn/tw), which was in direct response to the The Guardian piece that Gini cites at the beginning of this post.
           
          Keith Trivitt
          Associate Director
          PRSA

        •  @KeithTrivitt I’ll check this out.

    • arthury says:

       @rustyspeidel You may be unaware of the things that PRSA is doing to drive the ethical discussion, but we’re actually doing quite a bit on that front
       
      In September of last year, PRSA hosted its annual “Ethics Awareness Month,” which seeks to inform and educate the public relations profession about ongoing issues and concerns regarding ethics. PRSA wrote a series of commentaries and blog posts, held discussions, hosted webinars and developed other events that helped public relations professionals, as well as the clients they serve and the public they interact with, better understand the evolving issues surrounding public relations ethics and how their work can meet the profession’s ethical standards.
       
      The 2011 “Ethics Awareness Month” also featured a weekly Tweet chat series, the first of which PRSA and the Chartered Institute of Public Relations co-hosted. This helped expand the discussion to an international level and provide better understanding of the global nature of public relations ethics.
       
      The ethical use of interns was another issue PRSA tackled in 2011. We released a Professional Standards Advisory in February, in which we made clear our belief that it is unethical not to provide some type of  compensation to interns, whether monetary or college credit.
       
      These efforts complemented and extended the impact of PRSA’s advocacy efforts, through which PRSA used a series of ethical transgressions on the part of the profession as teachable moments to demonstrate what constitutes ethical practice (and what doesn’t), and reinforce the importance of ethical communications practices. To my knowledge, PRSA was the ONLY “governing body” to comment publicly on the Burson-Marstellar/Facebook situation (http://ow.ly/9EhHn, http://ow.ly/9EhKQ, http://ow.ly/9EhOb and http://ow.ly/9EhQh). We also had a response to The Guardian article that @ginidietrich references published (http://ow.ly/9EhT2).
       
      And to @ginidietrich’s point about regulation, I don’t know of too many professions that would invite government regulation of themselves and fail to see how it will solve PR’s ethics issue. It sure didn’t do much for the ethics of the finance profession.

      • Bill Sledzik says:

         @arthury  @rustyspeidel  @ginidietrich Arthur is right. PRSA has gone above and beyond the call to promote ethical conduct in the business and deserve praise for it. But PRSA is a membership organization, not a “governing body.” Governance, if PR is to have it, will require some level of government oversight. That’s the nature of licensing.  

  6. markwschaefer says:

    A very interesting article and I thank you for your passionate advocacy Gini.
     
    I am on the receiving end of the PR machine these days and am deluged on a daily basis with PR flack. 99 percent of the “pitches” are ridiculous spam and some of it comes from some legitimate firms too. Despite the debate and the calls to action, at least from my perspective, the industry seems desperate and locked into old “throw a press release out there” line of thinking. Amazing really how persistent this conditioning is!
     
    Thanks for the great post! 

    • ginidietrich says:

       @markwschaefer Totally agree with you, Mark. It’s gotten to the point that I use terrible pitches in our staff meetings as examples of what not to do. Even though I’ve done a TON of speaking on the topic of getting rid of the release and building relationships, it’s still extremely prevalent. It makes me a little nuts. 

      • @ginidietrich It warms my heart to see my two favourites on commenting by eachother. If it weren’t for @markwschaefer I still might not know that Spin Sucks existed. And Mark, I was telling Gini last week that I should start slanging social media instead of Mortgages. Sounds like there are some real putz’s out there! Great read, Gini.. Definitely made me say hmmm.

        • ginidietrich says:

           @SociallyGenius  I was just thinking the other day how it was you found your way to us. I couldn’t remember if it was @DannyBrown or @markwschaefer 

      • DannyBrown says:

         @ginidietrich I got an “interesting” pitch on behalf of a blogger with a new book out. Going by the topic of the book, the pitch jarred even more. Writing about it soon.

    • jeffespo says:

       @markwschaefer so wait that pitch I sent you on my air conditioning service was not kosher?

  7. rustyspeidel says:

    MoneymoneymoneyMONEY….MONEY!!!! 

  8. ginidietrich says:

    @markwschaefer No one agrees, but it’s getting a conversation going

  9. JayDolan says:

    Regulations will put hundreds, if not thousands, of hardworking chumps out of work.
     
    And as a blogger who gets a bunch of crap in his inbox daily, I’m totally for that.

    • ginidietrich says:

       @JayDolan It’s an entirely different conversation about the crap we get in our inboxes. It makes me NUTS!!

  10. John_Trader1 says:

    It seems that regulation may be the only way to foster legitimacy of our industry. I currently work in an industry that isn’t regulated and is just now establishing a set of international standards which are on their way to being passed and all vendors within the vertical are required to adhere. Although it’s different circumstances and a different market the point is that in the public’s eye, the government and private sector will only want to work with companies that adopts these standards to promote greater acceptance of our technology and allay any fears about the use of it.
     
    Perhaps it’s an apples to oranges comparison but I feel that with the spread and reach of communication channels of PR and the thousands in the profession who are entering the field each day, mandatory standards and continuing education as @ginidietrich  suggests, are the only way to achieve this goal and weed out the crap to elevate the ones who practice with high ethics and standards as the benchmarks and reverse the negative image of our industry.

    • rustyspeidel says:

       @John_Trader1  @ginidietrich So you don’t think just doing a good, ethical job every day is the best any of us can do? 😉

      • John_Trader1 says:

         @rustyspeidel  @ginidietrich Wow, I would love if that were the case. Excuse me, I have to go and feed my unicorn.

    • ginidietrich says:

       @John_Trader1 I don’t think it’s an apples to oranges comparison, John. I do think there is a way to establish a set of standards that everyone must adhere to. Perhaps that’s not regulation, from a government, red tape perspective, but, like the code of ethics, something we educate the public on as being necessary if you’re going to do business with a PR professional. 

  11. Bill Sledzik says:

    Hi, Gini. I’m not a regular here, but was really intrigued by your topic. I studied this issue nearly 25 years ago, while a PR professional and part-time graduate student. And you might be interested to know that the greatest spin doctor of them all, Edward L. Bernays, went to his grave making the same argument you present here.
     
    In my master’s project, I compared PR to several licensed professions (law, accounting, and medicine among them). I concluded that this regulation you call for is, indeed, possible, but it will require licensing of PR professionals. And that means testing candidates’ understanding of the body of knowledge and their skills to practice in the field. No easy task, but certainly do-able. 
     
    If we were to administer an exam of some sort, what would we test? And will those who fail be excluded from practicing PR? Lots of 1st Amendment issues arrise here — issues lawyers and physicians don’t face. But none are insurmountable. 
     
    In my final report on this topic, I came back to accounting as a perfect model for PR. A CPA is licensed. She must pass a rigorous exam and partake in continuing education to maintain that license. She is bound by a code of ethics that is enforced by the governing body of the profession. 
     
    But as in public relations, “doing” accounting doesn’t require that you be certified — at least not for 90% of the work accountants do. But in reality, we place a far higher level of trust in those who earn the CPA, and far less in those who don’t. After all, they are licensed professionals. (Disclose: I’ve been married to a CPA for 35 years!)
     
    Some will say PRSA’s “APR” or IABC’s “ABC” programs accomplish the same thing. They do not. Not even close. I’d love to see a group like PRSA or IABC take up this cause. And, btw, PRSA Chair and CEO Gerry Corbett has it right. As a membership organization, PRSA has no right to enforce ethics guidelines — even on its own members. 
     
     

    • ginidietrich says:

       @Bill Sledzik I’m with you – I don’t know why we can’t have licensing and continuing education to become a professional in this field. What’s the harm in that? Sure, there will still be people who hang up a shingle and call themselves a PR pro, but without APR or ABC or another acronym behind their names, it’s someone you shouldn’t do business with.
       
      Full disclosure: I am not accredited. I began to pursue my APR a few years ago and was frustrated by the process that is clearly created for junior level professionals. Unfortunately, early in my career, my employer did not support PRSA so it wasn’t required of us to move ahead in our careers.

      • Bill Sledzik says:

         @ginidietrich  @Bill Sledzik Gini. I would add that I see real value in the APR process. I did it as a young professional back in the 80s and learned a great deal about the field in my preparation. But the credentials, APR and ABC, have no real value in the marketplace. A broader licensing — ala the CPA — just might.
         
        Pretty amazing discussion here. Thanks for hosting it.

  12. ginidietrich says:

    @BillSledzik Saw your comment and running to a meeting. But will respond later. Thanks for stopping by!

  13. GnosisArts says:

    I have long felt that PRs take themselves far too seriously, and blog posts like these confirm this belief.

    Good grief! Can PR folks ever lighten the fuck up?

    • ginidietrich says:

       @GnosisArts I’m going to change your comment because the F word is against our policy. So…I guess this PR pro can’t lighten up.

  14. I volunteer to mentor anyone entering the profession who needs training on ethics, practice, client service, media relations, thought leadership, writing, strategy, events management, brand marketing, intellectual property, business plans, social media marketing, trademarks, business start-up, accounting…and, what did I forget? Oh, yes. Business development.
     
    How can you regulate a profession that crosses into every area of business? Are you speaking about the pure plays? They ought not to exist any more.
     
    But, what I said in the first 8 words, stands. I will always give back and teach what I know so those in our profession have a fighting chance to get beyond the constant criticism. Sigh.

    • ginidietrich says:

       @Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing It’s not just those entering the profession who need training on it. It’s some old-timers, too (look at Burson). I used to think education and doing better work was the way to go. I”m beginning to doubt that thinking now.

  15. Soulati says:

    @mikelesczinski That is not the solution; I agree.

  16. suegrimm says:

    Oh @ginidietrich you had to draw me back in to Spin Sucks didn’t you?  I know there are certain behaviors you can try to regulate, such as how the industry pitches etc, because that certainly seems to be out of control and what you do at Spin Sucks is a stellar training ground.  But public relations, at least to me, is about human communications.  How do you regulate that some people lie.  How do you regulate that your boss or your client may lie to you and you spread that unknowingly.  And you can’t regulate that a reporter or blogger may lie to you and catch you off guard in what they write.   It happens all the time and then the PR department gets blamed for it.  I do get tired of the PR folks being the ones blamed all the time. There seems to be an assumption that a PR fail is the fault of the PR department when many times they were in the dark until the sh– hits the fan, Trying to educate and raise awareness is good, but I”m not convinced you could ever regulate something that depends so much on basic human behavior.  

    • ginidietrich says:

       @suegrimm Bwahahahah! i mean, I”m sorry? 🙂
       
      Did you read The Guardian article I linked to? The author definitely blames the PR pros because he can’t get answers he wants. That’s not our fault….we’re doing our best to manage executives, lawyers, and media.
       
      You can’t regulate human behavior, but I’m attempting to create a discussion about what we can do…and it’s working.

      • suegrimm says:

         @ginidietrich Yes Gini.  It is a discussion worth having.  Like I said, you sucked me in today.  We’re on the same page in the end and if I had the answer I would give it to you.  Keep on doing what you’re doing — it takes guts and I commend you for it.  I really do.

  17. DannyBrown says:

    Preaching to the choir, miss. I’ve been saying this for the last 5 years, and always get the “But we have the PRSA” response. Yeah, because an organization that has no real enforcement except kicking you out their members party is really going to change the industry and the perception of it.
     
    Want to be taken seriously? Take serious action. 

  18. wabbitoid says:

    To everything there is a season,
    and a time for every purpose under heaven.
     
    This is not a problem with your profession, Gini – it is a problem with our entire culture.  You can, and should, do what you can – but we all have work to do.
     
    I offer my piece today on the resignation of Greg Smith from Goldman Sachs as a general call to action.  It is time.
    http://erikhare.wordpress.com/2012/03/14/leaving-goldman/

    • ginidietrich says:

       @wabbitoid I’m fascinated by the Smith letter to the editor. It’ll be interesting to see if that changes, in particular, that industry.

  19. barryrsilver says:

    Hi G,
    There is a man from my history that I know rather well. He is a person of the highest ethical standards and someone  I would be proud for my children to emulate. As part of his professional m responsibilities he provided legal representation to John Wayne Gacy. I never asked him about it, but his answer probably would have been about everyone being entitled to a rigorous defense, and he’d be right.
     
    Those that slam the PR industry as a whole are wither lazy or stupid.  Everyone deserves to have a pro’s assistance in telling their story.

    • ginidietrich says:

       @barryrsilver And, using that example, everyone’s ethical lines are different. I probably wouldn’t defend Gacy, but then…I’m not a lawyer.

  20. thornley says:

    Gini, I cannot agree with you on this one. Regulating the PR industry is not the answer. Look at lawyers, accountants, even doctors. Regulation does not eliminate the bad actors. Unethical people will continue to hide under rocks whether they are regulated or unregulated.But I also don’t think that we need to stand still. We should call the organizations that seek to represent the industry – that includes the PRSA and the Council of PR Firms in the US (and Canadian Council of Public Relations Firms in my native Canada) to be more aggressive in calling out the bad actors in the industry. Too often, competitors pull their punches when confronted with misbehavior in their midst. We the leaders of the industry must overcome this urge to be polite and gentlemanly. Bad behavior must be labelled as such before we can get on to realistic and workable solutions.

    • KeithTrivitt says:

      @thornley While I appreciate your point that the organizations representing the PR industry should take steps to speak out against ethical transgressions, the fact is that PRSA already does this quite frequently. As my colleague Arthur Yann notes in a comment below (http://fyre.it/Q1e), PRSA annually hosts an Ethics Awareness Month in which we help educate and inform the profession and the business community about the role and value of ethics in public relations.
       
      We have spoken out on a number of ethics issues in the past year. In 2011, for example, we issued an update to our Code of Ethics in which we made clear our belief that it is unethical not to provide some type of compensation to interns, whether monetary or college credit.  We made that point in a published New York Times letter to the editor (http://bit.ly/x6KCkD) where more than just PR professionals could see that PRSA and the PR industry are serious about ethics.
       
      These efforts complemented and extended the impact of PRSA’s advocacy efforts, through which PRSA used a series of ethical transgressions on the part of the profession as teachable moments to demonstrate what constitutes ethical practice (and what doesn’t), and reinforce the importance of ethical communications practices. To my knowledge, PRSA was the ONLY “governing body” to comment publicly on the Burson-Marstellar/Facebook situation (http://ow.ly/9EhHn, http://ow.ly/9EhKQ, http://ow.ly/9EhOb and http://ow.ly/9EhQh). We also had a response to The Guardian article that @ginidietrich references published (http://ow.ly/9EhT2).
       
      While there is always more that we can do, I think PRSA has made clear through these efforts that we will call out the bad actors in the profession if and when it is warranted, along with advocating for PR’s role and value to society and business.
       
      Keith Trivitt
      Associate Director
      PRSA

      • ginidietrich says:

         @KeithTrivitt  @thornley  Keith, I hope you don’t take my frustration as it being with you, @arthury ,, and others at PRSA. I do, however, find it extremely frustrating PRSA can’t do anything with the bad actors, as Joe calls them. It also really, really bothers me that all the work you’re doing with the NY Times, in particular, is really take one step forward and two steps back. When will we be rid of the spin doctor moniker and begin to repair the reputation of our industry? Sure, there are bad professionals in every industry, but we’re down at the bottom with used car salesmen and lawyers. 

      • rustyspeidel says:

        @KeithTrivitt But can we tie membership to ethical behavior, maybe provide some certifications that represent the efforts Gini desires? You all have the clout to create those.

        • arthury says:

           @rustyspeidel  PRSA membership is tied to ethical behavior. Every member must sign an ethics pledge (http://www.prsa.org/AboutPRSA/Ethics/EthicsPledge), and membership revocation is a consequence of not compliance. We just don’t have the same authority/standing with non-members.
           
          Interestingly enough, ethics is a big part of the APR credential, that so many dismiss as irrelevant.

        • ginidietrich says:

           @arthury  @rustyspeidel But here’s the problem. If *I* were revoked from PRSA, I would want to curl up in a ball and die. But I’m also not doing whisper campaigns or astroturfing. Is membership revocation really a big deal to someone who is that unethical? Or are those people already not members? 
           
          Is it possible to make APR required for anyone doing work in the industry? Just like CPA or MD or JD. I know some will still do the work without it, but they won’t do the same level as the rest of us…and likely will work only with unethical businesses. 
           
          I understand we can’t regulate ethics. But we can make sure, through accreditation AND continuing education, people are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. And then, maybe just then, the perception of our industry begins to change?

    • DannyBrown says:

       @thornley Hi Joe,
       
      The problem with that approach is that members (the bad ones) don’t care about losing membership. To the average business user, they may not even be aware of the various memberships and their Code of Ethics. The banned member simpley sets up shop under a different name, if need be, and carries on regardless.
       
      With regulation, the powers are there to be completely banned from practise for a set amount of time, under threat of heavier actions or even jail time. It’s shy disbarring is so effective, because it’s legal and enforceable.
       
      Until that happens, “leaders” in the space like you and @ginidietrich can continue the good fight by highlighting the bad practices, but unfortunately it’s not really working, as we continue to see with bad example after bad example.
       
      That will only change when it’s more than lip service, no matter how damning, that’s taking on the fight.
       
      Cheers, mate.

      • arthury says:

         @DannyBrown  @thornley  @ginidietrich This is true; however, individuals are members of PRSA, whereas firms are members of the Council of PR Firms and PRCA, and thus the impact of being denied membership is disproportionate. For example, if the Council of PR Firms removed Burson-Marstellar as a member for the Facebook incident, that would have a much larger impact than, say, removing the one or two BM staffers directly responsible (who weren’t PRSA members, in any case). That said, I don’t think it would be fair to punish an otherwise reputable firm for having a few under-trained staffers, which I think was the issue in BM’s case. But a repeat offender, like 5W …

        • HowieSPM says:

           @arthury @DannyBrown @thornley @ginidietrich I will say something about Orgs/Councils etc. I haven’t joined any Advertising ones because I have a poor view of too many of my peers and agencies fleecing clients.
           
          So to Gini’s point about asking the PRSA in the post…..they should F-n care and do something. The credibility of their Organization is at stake. Otherwise clients won’t feel hiring members means anything of value then their quality members will stop paying to be members,

        • arthury says:

           @HowieSPM @rustyspeidel @ginidietrich Please. With all due respect, PRSA does more on the ethics front than any other member organization of public relations professionals. Point me to a single comment that A.W. Page, the Council, IABC or anyone else made on the B-M/Facebook incident. I can point you to hundreds of examples of PRSA’s speaking out on ethical conduct.We tried “enforcement” for a number of years (http://www.prsa.org/AboutPRSA/Ethics/AboutEnforcement). It was an expensive failure, because (1) PR is an unregulated industry and (2) the First Amendment. But to say we don’t “f-n care” because we don’t take the approach YOU want? Just tell me, on whose authority would we be acting, and who’s paying for it? The 22,000 paying members of PRSA? They’ve already agreed to abide by our Code or lose their membership.

        • ginidietrich says:

           @arthury  @HowieSPM  @rustyspeidel Arthur, please don’t think I don’t think you don’t care. I do. I think PRSA is better poised than any other organization to make this happen. Am I being completely naive or is it something that can happen?

      • ginidietrich says:

         @DannyBrown  @thornley Right. And we have the code of ethics in our contracts. But I know out clients don’t read them (their attorneys do). We just continue to do ethical work and educate our clients when they ask us to do something that skirts the line (or resign the business if they don’t listen). But fighting the good fight ISN’T working. 

    • ginidietrich says:

       @thornley Well, you know I have no qualms about pulling punches when bad behavior is made public. I also don’t really think regulation is the answer. But I do think it’s somewhere in the middle and it’s up to all of us to make it happen.

  21. mitchellfriedmn says:

    @ginidietrich Yes! Licensing! #PRSA does noble work in many areas, but the problems you’ve identified transcend their influence.

  22. JeffRice63 says:

    @ginidietrich I think the term ‘Social Media’, Pr. n the ilk, being referred 2 so many times n print, n else where, causes a backfire.

  23. Leon says:

    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

    • ginidietrich says:

       @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?

  24. econwriter5 says:

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

  25. JackMonson says:

    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”…

    • ginidietrich says:

       @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.

  26. ErinMFeldman says:

    @ginidietrich Of writers, too. We can spin with the best of them. 😉

  27. normanmonkey says:

    @ginidietrich I think they are being too generous

  28. 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.

    • HowieSPM says:

       @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 says:

       @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.

  29. HowieSPM says:

    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!

  30. ginidietrich says:

    @KaseyCrabtree Hello my love

  31. ginidietrich says:

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

  32. DavidCRoberts says:

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

  33. jepotts says:

    @rjfrasca @ginidietrich “The barrier to entry is extremely low.” It’s the same in journalism.

  34. pocojuan says:

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

  35. 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!!”

  36. PLHolden says:

    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:)

    • ginidietrich says:

       @PLHolden And, unfortunately, ethics are different for everyone.

      • suegrimm says:

         @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 says:

           @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?

  37. ginidietrich says:

    @ThePaulSutton Happy day after your birthday!

  38. […] 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? […]

  39. maragarettate says:

    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 says:

       @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.

  40. […] 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 […]

  41. […] 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 […]

  42. Liturgy says:

    @ShellyKramer join the movement Geraldine Granger for ABC http://t.co/7nU2qjI2

  43. Frank_Strong says:

    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. 

    • ginidietrich says:

       @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!

  44. Trace_Cohen says:

    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.
     

    • ginidietrich says:

       @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.

  45. ginidietrich says:

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

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

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

  48. ginidietrich says:

    @SashaHalima That one caused some controversy

  49. […] Call for Regulation In the PR Industry (spinsucks.com) […]

  50. […] 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 […]

  51. […] 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 […]

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