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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.

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114 Comments on "Seven Ways to Change the Perception of PR"

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KenMueller
4 years 11 months ago

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.

glenn_ferrell
glenn_ferrell
4 years 11 months ago

@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 !

Krista
4 years 11 months ago
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… Read more »
LisaThorell
LisaThorell
4 years 11 months ago

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!

LisaThorell
LisaThorell
4 years 11 months ago

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!

LisaThorell
LisaThorell
4 years 11 months ago

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!

KenMueller
4 years 11 months ago

@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.

glenn_ferrell
glenn_ferrell
4 years 11 months ago

@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.

glenn_ferrell
glenn_ferrell
4 years 11 months ago

@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 🙂

glenn_ferrell
glenn_ferrell
4 years 11 months ago

@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 🙂

glenn_ferrell
glenn_ferrell
4 years 11 months ago

@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 🙂

glenn_ferrell
glenn_ferrell
4 years 11 months ago

@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 🙂

KenMueller
4 years 11 months ago

@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…

KenMueller
4 years 11 months ago

@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…

KenMueller
4 years 11 months ago

@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…

glenn_ferrell
glenn_ferrell
4 years 11 months ago
@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.
glenn_ferrell
glenn_ferrell
4 years 11 months ago

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

KenMueller
4 years 11 months ago

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

glenn_ferrell
glenn_ferrell
4 years 11 months ago

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

glenn_ferrell
glenn_ferrell
4 years 11 months ago

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

glenn_ferrell
glenn_ferrell
4 years 11 months ago

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

glenn_ferrell
glenn_ferrell
4 years 11 months ago

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

glenn_ferrell
glenn_ferrell
4 years 11 months ago

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

fionabellpr
fionabellpr
4 years 11 months ago

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

fionabellpr
fionabellpr
4 years 11 months ago

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

BurgundyPR
BurgundyPR
4 years 11 months ago

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

BurgundyPR
BurgundyPR
4 years 11 months ago

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

BurgundyPR
BurgundyPR
4 years 11 months ago

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

BurgundyPR
BurgundyPR
4 years 11 months ago

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

EmmaofCEM
EmmaofCEM
4 years 11 months ago

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…

Lisa Gerber
4 years 11 months ago

@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.

glenn_ferrell
glenn_ferrell
4 years 11 months ago

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 🙂

glenn_ferrell
glenn_ferrell
4 years 11 months ago

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

SpitToonsSaloon
SpitToonsSaloon
4 years 11 months ago

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

Lisa Gerber
4 years 11 months ago

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!

Lisa Gerber
4 years 11 months ago

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!

allarminda
allarminda
4 years 11 months ago

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

glenn_ferrell
glenn_ferrell
4 years 11 months ago

@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…

glenn_ferrell
glenn_ferrell
4 years 11 months ago

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

ericswyatt
ericswyatt
4 years 11 months ago

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

kmueller62
kmueller62
4 years 11 months ago

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

allarminda
allarminda
4 years 11 months ago

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

glenn_ferrell
glenn_ferrell
4 years 11 months ago

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

allarminda
allarminda
4 years 11 months ago

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

glenn_ferrell
glenn_ferrell
4 years 11 months ago

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

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 11 months ago

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

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 11 months ago

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

glenn_ferrell
glenn_ferrell
4 years 11 months ago

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

rideboulderco
rideboulderco
4 years 11 months ago

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

mitchellfriedmn
mitchellfriedmn
4 years 11 months ago
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… Read more »
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