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Seven Ways to Change the Perception of PR

By: Guest | August 2, 2011 | 
114

Today’s guest post is written by Glenn Ferrell.

Last year, after a run-in with a spammer, Michael Arrington, the TechCrunch CEO, wrote an article which painted a pretty scathing picture of the PR industry:

“…we consider the PR industry, for the most part, the bane of our existence. …some PR firms will lie, cheat, manipulate and then just smear your reputation to get what they want…the whole PR profession really needs to get a grip …”

He wraps up by directing our attention to “scummy spammers,” “scummy web marketers,” and ”scummy black hat SEOs.”

You get the picture.

It’s in the past, but it still hurts

Danny Brown rebutted Michael’s over-generalization. Gini Dietrich responded that, regardless of any generalization, the communication industry really does have a “perception issue.”

I had no problem agreeing with that.

Of course PR has a perception issue. Virtually every industry has a perception issue. Wall Street has Bernie Madoff and Michael Milken. The “Oil Industry” has BP  and the Exxon Valdez. Banking has Lehman Brothers, and on and on.

We humans do lousy induction. It’s in our nature to collect these highly negative outliers and then construct generalizations that hurt entire industries.

But no one does business with an entire industry. As true as that may be,there is someone out there who wants to do business with you. And obviously, if you are in marketing and/or PR, this kind of perception can hurt your business.

So what can you do about it? How can you protect yourself from being “tarred with the same brush?”

To get a handle on this I worked backwards. I collected a number of communication industry failures and then derived a few simple habits that might help protect your reputation. Today I’m sharing seven of the 14 I deem to be most important.

1.     Tell the truth. Advise your clients to tell the truth.

The communications industry is guilty of deception – even murderous deception, if you believe the following books:

This should go without saying, but it appears we have to say it: Don’t lie. The definition of “lying” is to make a statement “with the intention of misleading someone.” Sounds simple, but if you run into really tough choices, read Sissela Bok’s wonderful book, “Lying.”

2.     Don’t misrepresent yourself as someone else.

Don’t create fake social media grassroots support for your product (a practice called astroturfing). And don’t even think about creating false product reviews. Aside from the moral issue it can lead to huge fines from the FTC.

3.     Be open to criticism.

In the U.S., trying to inhibit free speech is like stomping on Mom and Apple Pie. Stonewalling or being too proud to accept criticism can have negative consequences. Even PRSA got some very negative press when they tried to discourage a critic from attending their conference.

Read this for a few good tips and tactics: “How to Handle Negative Press.”

4.     Select ethical clients.

PR, unlike the law, does not entitle everyone to the right to be represented by a communication professional. Where you draw the line is always a judgment call — but absolutely stay away from dirty money no matter how big the payday. It will save you in the long-run.

5.     Be human during a human disaster.

Provide charity for its own sake, not to get something out of it, or in a one-for-one swap for PR; a mistake Microsoft made during the Japan quake event. Don’t try to accentuate the positive elements of a human disaster; a mistake BP made. And never, ever say “I told you so” when people are suffering.

6.     Constantly build your own social media presence.

Walk your talk. David Meerman Scott says that the most important step in interviewing a prospective social nedia agency is to have them show you their social media presence. Don’t ignore your own.

7.     Be transparent in your online activities.

Disclose any time you are being compensated for blogs or any other relevant online updates. In other words, don’t mix PR for your clients with your own blog or mix editorial and advertising. This even has implications for our Twitter streams and other social networks.

It is up to each and every one of us to protect the industry.

What habits have you developed to protect your reputation?

Glenn Ferrell does web design and SEO exclusively for small businesses in the Chicago area. He sits on the board for IIT’s School of Applied Technology, and has been known to pick a fiddle tune or two with a local old-time instrumental group.

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