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Seven Ways to Change the Perception of PR

By: Guest | August 2, 2011 | 
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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.

86 comments
Imdoinme14
Imdoinme14

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

ewittke
ewittke

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!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

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

girlygrizzly
girlygrizzly

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.

3HatsComm
3HatsComm

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.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

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.

kmueller62
kmueller62

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

ericswyatt
ericswyatt

@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...

ericswyatt
ericswyatt

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

ericswyatt
ericswyatt

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

ericswyatt
ericswyatt

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

ericswyatt
ericswyatt

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

ericswyatt
ericswyatt

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

ericswyatt
ericswyatt

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

mitchellfriedmn
mitchellfriedmn

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).

glenn_ferrell
glenn_ferrell

@HowieG Thanks much ! Howie -- you're all over Spin Sucks. You better ask them for a bonus per comment. You're worth it :)

glenn_ferrell
glenn_ferrell

@HowieG Hmmm -- I suspect it's more like a jalapeno popper a piece if we supply our own beer :)

Trackbacks

  1. […] 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 […]

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

  3. […] 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 […]

  4. […] 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) […]

  5. […] 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 […]