Guest

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.

Spin Sucks in Your Inbox

114 responses to “Seven Ways to Change the Perception of PR”

  1. KenMueller says:

    i love this. top to bottom great advice. And this just doesn’t go for PR agencies, it should go for all agencies: Social Media, Advertising, Communications, Web design, etc.

    I especially love point 2 – Astroturfing. I’ve recently run into a few situations with some of the larger local ad agencies that are actually recommending and using this practice, and it makes me sick.

    it all comes down to being honest and ethical across the board.

  2. glenn_ferrell says:

    @KenMueller You’re absolutely right Ken. I struggled with simply saying “The Communications Industry” rather than “PR” but chose PR because of the connection to Gini’s and Dan’s articles. It’s getting very hard to draw the lines between PR, Social Media, Advertising, etc. With the Social Media revolution, even web design and SEO have become significantly connected to PR.

    Thanks for your comment !

  3. Krista says:

    Glenn, there must be some cosmic connection in the cards because I was just constructing a post about #4 on your list when this was delivered into my Google Reader!

    I’m glad you cautioned about the repercussions if PR agencies/practitioners accept clients with less than stellar rap sheets, or worse, who have committed serious offenses. It doesn’t bode well for the PR pro’s reputation to align themselves with these sorts of clients, and I can’t imagine the payout is worth it either. But then again, that’s just my humble opinion as a non-PR agency or small business owner. I don’t know how I would feel if I were put in their shoes with those options.

  4. LisaThorell says:

    Sweet list of antidotes! I’d go one step further to say the PR industry has to outwardly shout out when a highly visible PR firm runs afoul. Great example is the Burston Marsteller whisper campaign against Google for Facebook. And, yeah, a “Rock on” to @Gini as Spinsucks did a great job of covering that!

  5. LisaThorell says:

    Sweet list of antidotes! I’d go one step further to say the PR industry has to outwardly shout out when a highly visible PR firm runs afoul. Great example is the Burston Marsteller whisper campaign against Google for Facebook. And, yeah, a “Rock on” to @Gini as Spinsucks did a great job of covering that!

  6. LisaThorell says:

    Sweet list of antidotes! I’d go one step further to say the PR industry has to outwardly shout out when a highly visible PR firm runs afoul. Great example is the Burston Marsteller whisper campaign against Google for Facebook. And, yeah, a “Rock on” to @Gini as Spinsucks did a great job of covering that!

  7. KenMueller says:

    @glenn_ferrell number 6 is also a pet peeve of mine. I’m amazed at how many SM agencies aren’t even really using the platforms for themselves. You look at their presence, and wonder where they are. If they can’t use them for themselves, how can they help you? Blogging is the same thing.

  8. glenn_ferrell says:

    @Krista Krista – so true. First — why would I believe that I can trust someone like this, and secondly, even if the one time payout is significant, my reputation may become so tarnished that can be difficult, if not impossible, to recover.

  9. glenn_ferrell says:

    @KenMueller Absolutely – Something all of us see while reviewing new followers. On the other hand, it makes folks like Arment Dietrich shine all the brighter 🙂

  10. glenn_ferrell says:

    @KenMueller Absolutely – Something all of us see while reviewing new followers. On the other hand, it makes folks like Arment Dietrich shine all the brighter 🙂

  11. glenn_ferrell says:

    @KenMueller Absolutely – Something all of us see while reviewing new followers. On the other hand, it makes folks like Arment Dietrich shine all the brighter 🙂

  12. glenn_ferrell says:

    @KenMueller Absolutely – Something all of us see while reviewing new followers. On the other hand, it makes folks like Arment Dietrich shine all the brighter 🙂

  13. KenMueller says:

    @glenn_ferrell Yes, but please try not to help inflate ginidietrich ‘s ego. I mean, that Arment fella is ok, but she can be insufferable…

  14. KenMueller says:

    @glenn_ferrell Yes, but please try not to help inflate ginidietrich ‘s ego. I mean, that Arment fella is ok, but she can be insufferable…

  15. KenMueller says:

    @glenn_ferrell Yes, but please try not to help inflate ginidietrich ‘s ego. I mean, that Arment fella is ok, but she can be insufferable…

  16. glenn_ferrell says:

    @LisaThorell@gini That’s one I missed — a very good point.

    I was trying to focus this list more on what each of us should be doing as individuals.

    One of the points Danny Brown made in defense of the PR industry — was that individuals and these individual cases are what is causing this industry-reputation-damage. But in the aftermath of these cases, the damage is real – so your point is well taken. The PR industry as a whole has a responsibility for calling these practices out and making it clear that this kind of behavior won’t be ignored.

  17. glenn_ferrell says:

    @KenMuellerginidietrich lol 🙂 Well I already told Gini that I’m not interested in hearing about her shoes 🙂

  18. KenMueller says:

    @glenn_ferrellginidietrich i can’t believe you mentioned the S-word.

  19. glenn_ferrell says:

    @fionabellpr THx Fiona – and from your bio it looks like double congrats are due 🙂

  20. glenn_ferrell says:

    @pr_in_pink Krista — thanks much. Hope all is well in Philly 🙂

  21. glenn_ferrell says:

    @cbaumgarten Hi Carolyn – thx for the RTing my guest post 🙂

  22. glenn_ferrell says:

    @cbaumgarten Hi Carolyn – thx for the RTing my guest post 🙂

  23. glenn_ferrell says:

    @KenMuellerginidietrich … or, for that matter, the birds nest 🙂

  24. fionabellpr says:

    @glenn_ferrell Yes, thank you! Lots of exciting life changes.

  25. fionabellpr says:

    @glenn_ferrell Yes, thank you! Lots of exciting life changes.

  26. BurgundyPR says:

    #8: Free Pizza Tuesdays @shonali @ginidietrich Seven Ways to Change the Perception of PR http://t.co/uVifbjx via @ginidietrich

  27. BurgundyPR says:

    #8: Free Pizza Tuesdays @shonali @ginidietrich Seven Ways to Change the Perception of PR http://t.co/uVifbjx via @ginidietrich

  28. BurgundyPR says:

    #8: Free Pizza Tuesdays @shonali @ginidietrich Seven Ways to Change the Perception of PR http://t.co/uVifbjx via @ginidietrich

  29. BurgundyPR says:

    #8: Free Pizza Tuesdays @shonali @ginidietrich Seven Ways to Change the Perception of PR http://t.co/uVifbjx via @ginidietrich

  30. EmmaofCEM says:

    Will you be sharing the other seven with us soon? My favorite is number 5 – can’t tell you how much it irks me to watch Tweeters try to capitalize on world disasters with over-hashtagging. I’m just glad Twitter wasn’t around during the heyday of Katrina…

  31. Lisa Gerber says:

    @KenMueller that is the bottom line; being honest and ethical across the board. Although that’s common sense to a lot of us, it still needs to be explained to many.

  32. glenn_ferrell says:

    Me too Emma, and it happened all over with the Japan earthquake. As to the other 7 — who knows. The ones here are definitely my “top 7.” Thanx 🙂

  33. glenn_ferrell says:

    @EmmaofCEM Ah — reread your cmt. You’re right. Twitter wasn’t around for that – I’d forgotten.

  34. SpitToonsSaloon says:

    @JessicaNorthey If you’re ever flim-flammed with razzle-dazzle & razzmatazz, remember that by any other name, jazz is still just jazz.

  35. Lisa Gerber says:

    This is a great “code of conduct”. We do need to do better PR for our own industry.

    Transparency, transparency, transparency. I don’t get it sometimes; it’s so much easier in the long-run to be honest, to apologize, to be humble. and people actually LIKE you! What’s so hard about that?

    Loved your point about PR not entitling everyone to representation. Sadly, I think there will always be someone happy to take that kind of money. I hope I’m wrong!

  36. Lisa Gerber says:

    This is a great “code of conduct”. We do need to do better PR for our own industry.

    Transparency, transparency, transparency. I don’t get it sometimes; it’s so much easier in the long-run to be honest, to apologize, to be humble. and people actually LIKE you! What’s so hard about that?

    Loved your point about PR not entitling everyone to representation. Sadly, I think there will always be someone happy to take that kind of money. I hope I’m wrong!

  37. allarminda says:

    @ginidietrich Why do I need to protect my reputation from @glenn_ferrell? What do I not know?

  38. glenn_ferrell says:

    @Lisa Gerber RIGHT – It sometimes seems easy to forget that transparency and doing the right thing is (actually) in each individual’s selfish interest. Why isn’t that more obvious ?

    I hope you’re wrong too — but barring global enlightenment…

  39. glenn_ferrell says:

    @allarminda Tell Gini to get off my case. I’m harmless 🙂

  40. ericswyatt says:

    @kmueller62 earning my keep…i had a click through (yes, ONE) to your blog today…you’re welcome….lol

  41. kmueller62 says:

    @ericswyatt i saw that. at 12:28. Someone from Raleigh. the check is in the mail

  42. allarminda says:

    @glenn_ferrell Well, apparently @ginidietrich thinks you’re trouble. #JustSayin

  43. glenn_ferrell says:

    @allarminda Yeah I knew I left out one – #8 Don’t spread unsubstantiated rumors about your guest posters ! Sheesh

  44. allarminda says:

    @glenn_ferrell Seriously. BTW – I thought your guest post was great 🙂 cc @ginidietrich

  45. glenn_ferrell says:

    @steveakinsseo Hey Steve – Thx for the RT – appreciate it 🙂

  46. ginidietrich says:

    @allarminda Oh you have to be careful of that @glenn_ferrell. He’s a crazy one.

  47. ginidietrich says:

    @DaveMurr How is it we’re not already connected on LI?

  48. glenn_ferrell says:

    @allarminda Better to agree with her (@ginidietrich ). She may have a shoe in her hand.

  49. rideboulderco says:

    @glenn_ferrell and if it’s a cycling shoe that might really hurt! 🙂 cc (@ginidietrich )

  50. mitchellfriedmn says:

    These are all excellent points that balance the “who we are” with the “what (and how) we do it” quite nicely. As a profession, I think we need to aim even higher by making a better case for the myriad roles and values delivered by an effective public relations function within an organization. That transcends a focus on media relations, social media, etc. and speaks to bigger, broader tasks fundamental to the very welfare of companies in all sectors. Indeed, PR is a management function and needs to do a far better job at claiming — with all due enthusiasm and verve — that very, very vital position (lest others do so, to our distinct disadvantage).

  51. mitchellfriedmn says:

    These are all excellent points that balance the “who we are” with the “what (and how) we do it” quite nicely. As a profession, I think we need to aim even higher by making a better case for the myriad roles and values delivered by an effective public relations function within an organization. That transcends a focus on media relations, social media, etc. and speaks to bigger, broader tasks fundamental to the very welfare of companies in all sectors. Indeed, PR is a management function and needs to do a far better job at claiming — with all due enthusiasm and verve — that very, very vital position (lest others do so, to our distinct disadvantage).

  52. DaveMurr says:

    @ginidietrich Like Stonehenge or Easter Island, it’s one of life’s great mysteries.

  53. ginidietrich says:

    @glenn_ferrell @allarminda A shoe with a heel!

  54. ginidietrich says:

    @DaveMurr It truly is

  55. ericswyatt says:

    @kmueller62 did you blog about how you get random blog posts re-posted on twitter automatically? or was that another genius?

  56. kmueller62 says:

    @ericswyatt you mean my old posts

  57. ericswyatt says:

    @kmueller62 yeah…maybe it wasn’t you…but it is an automated way to sort of occasionally re-cycle old posts…

  58. kmueller62 says:

    @ericswyatt it’s a plug-in for wordpress “tweet old posts”

  59. ericswyatt says:

    @kmueller62 does it work on the free wordpress accounts? maybe that’s why i didn’t make good notes on it…

  60. kmueller62 says:

    @ericswyatt not sure.

  61. ericswyatt says:

    @kmueller62 yeah that was it. installation instruction”ftp the plug in to your server”…thanks though

  62. kmueller62 says:

    @ericswyatt are you able to ftp?

  63. kmueller62 says:

    @ericswyatt are you able to ftp?

  64. ericswyatt says:

    @kmueller62 sure. but i assumed i am not able to ftp to the wordpress mothership server….

  65. ericswyatt says:

    @kmueller62 sure. but i assumed i am not able to ftp to the wordpress mothership server….

  66. kmueller62 says:

    @ericswyatt i have no idea….

  67. ericswyatt says:

    @kmueller62 you have your blog hosted on a “real” server, right? not a free wordpress.org account…

  68. kmueller62 says:

    @ericswyatt that is correct sir. i pay $4.44 per month for hosting. BAM

  69. ericswyatt says:

    @kmueller62 lol. i paid 9.95/year for my actual website. so in the words of Bam-Bam, “Bam-Bam”. I probably should have done off-site WP…

  70. kmueller62 says:

    @ericswyatt built my website and blog together, 2 years hosting with premium theme. under $200. now it’s just about $50 per year

  71. ericswyatt says:

    @kmueller62 good prices. i was just giving you grief. 🙂

  72. kmueller62 says:

    @ericswyatt of course you were. keep it up and i’ll send Bona your way

  73. allarminda says:

    @glenn_ferrell, @ginidietrich & I are united in our heels. 🙂

  74. allarminda says:

    @glenn_ferrell, @ginidietrich & I are united in our heels. 🙂

  75. JasonPromotesU says:

    @GS_Design Thank you so much for the RT.

  76. ThePRCoach says:

    @commaim Totally agree Craig!

  77. glenn_ferrell says:

    @seocopy Thx Gabriella !

  78. […] as I was drafting this very post, some cosmic power intervened and delivered into my Google Reader a guest post by Glenn Ferrell on Gini Dietrich’s aptly named Spin Sucks […]

  79. HowieSPM says:

    Kind of funny someone like Arrington whom I have ZERO respect for because he is a whiny cry baby when he feels upset or slighted ranted about PR. I might hate Mashable and ridicule their reporting whenever I click on a link on twitter by accident, but I never hear any peep out of Petey-Boy. But Michael Arrington is truly a sod. Talk about someone with a perception issue. He is like the Andrew Breitbart of tech news.

    As for the content here @glenn_ferrell you said everything perfectly. And these tips cross beyond PR into business in general.

  80. HowieSPM says:

    @glenn_ferrell@Lisa Gerber it was like when @ginidietrich called me to ask if she should take BP as a client and then blame the fish in the gulf and Obamacare for the oil spill as her strategy. I held firm and said don’t take them as a client. It will turn out badly. Ethics, Accountability and Transparency are very important.

  81. 3HatsComm says:

    Very good list and I liked the examples and bonus for me: some of the links added to new blogs to my reader. Woot. Only habits to protect reputation are do a good job, strive for excellence, learn from mistakes, admit when you don’t know or can’t do something, keep it professional. FWIW.

  82. 3HatsComm says:

    Very good list and I liked the examples and bonus for me: some of the links added to new blogs to my reader. Woot. Only habits to protect reputation are do a good job, strive for excellence, learn from mistakes, admit when you don’t know or can’t do something, keep it professional. FWIW.

  83. glenn_ferrell says:

    @HowieSPM Thanks much ! Howie — you’re all over Spin Sucks. You better ask them for a bonus per comment. You’re worth it 🙂

  84. glenn_ferrell says:

    @HowieSPM Thanks much ! Howie — you’re all over Spin Sucks. You better ask them for a bonus per comment. You’re worth it 🙂

  85. glenn_ferrell says:

    @HowieSPM Thanks much ! Howie — you’re all over Spin Sucks. You better ask them for a bonus per comment. You’re worth it 🙂

  86. glenn_ferrell says:

    @HowieSPM@Lisa Gerber Boy do I have mixed feelings about this.

    I think BP needs someone like Gini because they do such bad PR and have such a clueless CEO. I think it is important not to confuse ignorance and ineptitude with malice and a lack of integrity.

    I think what happened at BP is more like one of these cascades of poor judgement that sometimes happens in companies who have gotten too big. I know this is controversial as hell — but I would not classify BP under #4. Regardless of how angry we all are about the gulf (I’m from Florida and have great friends throughout the region), I don’t think that BP is fundamentally unethical.

    I think BP is a problem worth fixing.

    One of my best friends is a retired BP exec who was pulled back in to help with this cleanup. You couldn’t meet anyone with more integrity or more concern about what has happened there. Hopefully he is in some way representative of the the rest executive team.

  87. glenn_ferrell says:

    @3HatsComm Well said 🙂

  88. HowieSPM says:

    @glenn_ferrell HA! Glenn thanks for contributing and always having so much great stuff to share here. I heard @ginidietrich already has allocated stock options for us both 8)

  89. HowieSPM says:

    @glenn_ferrell@Lisa Gerber oh I agree Glenn. I think transparency was lacking both from BP and the US and local State Governments. All this does is make people lose trust. I tend to be brutally honest to a fault sometimes. But know can ever say they don’t know where they stand with me. And for any company or government employees that do anything that if discovered could land them in jail…that is their fault. Often liability and criminality cause people to not be truthful but man does it bite harder if you get outed.

  90. rbbPR says:

    @theresaagonia @dianewolfPRx @prweb Thanks for the RT!

  91. ginidietrich says:

    @3HatsComm NEW AVATAR?!?! When did you do that? I LOVE!

  92. glenn_ferrell says:

    @HowieSPM@Lisa Gerber Good point – so many breakdowns in transparency in both government and BP (and the feeding frenzy in media) created such a loss of trust and negative perception that there could be a real risk to whatever PR firm(s) takes them on. Whoever it is, I hope they understand that honesty and transparency are the only hope of salvaging any thing of BP’s reputation.

    … and I wish them the best.

  93. glenn_ferrell says:

    @HowieSPM Hmmm — I suspect it’s more like a jalapeno popper a piece if we supply our own beer 🙂

  94. ericamallison says:

    @3hatscomm Love the profile pic, Davina!

  95. 3HatsComm says:

    @ericamallison Thanks 🙂

  96. URNUTEACHER says:

    @jeffbullas @ginidietrich You only need one: Perception

  97. URNUTEACHER says:

    @jeffbullas @ginidietrich You only need one: Perception

  98. Isascribla says:

    @YouBrandInc @ginidietrich I always apply SMART objectives coupled with a relationship focus. Relate for good fate.

  99. girlygrizzly says:

    Glenn, Hi, I am Amber-Lee! (mostly)

    This is a terrific post. I’ve done a lot of research into PR, actually that is exactly how I found HubSpot and that led me HERE! ~Anyways, I only (well, no not really) mention this because I am not educated or terribly experienced in PR or anything. I have learned over the last months all of these points, but never like this. Thank you. I believe in and follow a few hard lines / strong standards in my life and as my life is my business, it’s a no-brainer. Honesty, Respect and Integrity. Thank you for a great post, I’ll be looking closer at those books now.

  100. anniemeikle says:

    RT @jeffbullas Seven Ways to Change the Perception of PR http://twrt.me/h0u9w via @ginidietrich

  101. SpinSucks says:

    @girlygrizzly good stuff, huh? 🙂 @Glenn_Ferrell wrote the one on PR perception. They both rock.

  102. SpinSucks says:

    @girlygrizzly good stuff, huh? 🙂 @Glenn_Ferrell wrote the one on PR perception. They both rock.

  103. glenn_ferrell says:

    After reading #4 above – Check out Frank Strong’s post on Khadafy http://bit.ly/ofvnUa

  104. glenn_ferrell says:

    @girlygrizzly Hi Amber – glad you liked it 🙂

  105. […] Dit is een redelijk vrije interpretatie van de blogpost van Glenn. Als je Glenn zijn post wilt lezen, die vind je hier. […]

  106. […] Ferrell wrote a really thoughtful post about the PR profession- Seven Ways to Change the Perception of PR. It got me thinking about truth and truths in PR or any […]

  107. ginidietrich says:

    Look at you, rock star! You have Gini-level engagement. Way to go!

  108. […] Seven Ways to Change the Perception of PR: Many perceive the PR industry to be a distasteful group of miscreants that lies, cheats and manipulates to get what they want. Regardless of reality, the industry truly does have a “perception issue” — just like many others do. PR professionals trying to avoid being “tarred with the same brush” should take note of these seven tips. Among them are to tell the truth (and advise your clients to tell the truth), be open to criticism and be transparent in your online activities. (Spin Sucks) […]

  109. ewittke says:

    I really liked how you drew the parallel between legal representation and PR representation. I’ve come to see PR as being (in crisis circumstances) very similar to the job of an attorney. Except rather than being judged by twelve jurors, you’re being judged by practically the entire world. And just as lawyers must choose to represent clients that they feel morally comfortable with, so must PR.

    This is a fantastic and much needed post!

  110. Imdoinme14 says:

    @pruerobson “In the US, trying to inhibit free speech is like stomping on mom and apple pie” – classic. Great article

  111. glenn_ferrell says:

    @ewittke Nicely said Eric.

    And thanks for the thumbs up 🙂

  112. glenn_ferrell says:

    @ginidietrich Ha 🙂 And in the meantime, I’ve gotta move these refrigerators…

  113. […] useful, especially as projects pile up continuously. It’s inspiring to see how much…Seven Ways to Change the Perception of PR3 weeks agoEric: I really liked how you drew the parallel between legal representation and PR […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  
Please enter an e-mail address

[postmatic_subscribe_widget]