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.

  • 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

    @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 !

  • 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.

  • LisaThorell

    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

    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

    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!

  • @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

    @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

    @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

    @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

    @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

    @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 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 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 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

    @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

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

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

  • glenn_ferrell

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

  • glenn_ferrell

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

  • glenn_ferrell

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

  • glenn_ferrell

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

  • glenn_ferrell

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

  • fionabellpr

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

  • fionabellpr

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

  • BurgundyPR

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

  • BurgundyPR

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

  • BurgundyPR

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

  • BurgundyPR

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

  • EmmaofCEM

    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…

  • @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

    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

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

  • SpitToonsSaloon

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

  • 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!

  • 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

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

  • glenn_ferrell

    @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

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

  • ericswyatt

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

  • kmueller62

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

  • allarminda

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

  • glenn_ferrell

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

  • allarminda

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

  • glenn_ferrell

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

  • ginidietrich

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

  • ginidietrich

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

  • glenn_ferrell

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

  • rideboulderco

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

  • 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).

  • 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).

  • DaveMurr

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

  • ginidietrich

    @glenn_ferrell @allarminda A shoe with a heel!

  • ginidietrich

    @DaveMurr It truly is

  • ericswyatt

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

  • kmueller62

    @ericswyatt you mean my old posts

  • ericswyatt

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

  • kmueller62

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

  • ericswyatt

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

  • kmueller62

    @ericswyatt not sure.

  • ericswyatt

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

  • kmueller62

    @ericswyatt are you able to ftp?

  • kmueller62

    @ericswyatt are you able to ftp?

  • ericswyatt

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

  • ericswyatt

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

  • kmueller62

    @ericswyatt i have no idea….

  • ericswyatt

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

  • kmueller62

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

  • 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…

  • 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

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

  • kmueller62

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

  • allarminda

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

  • allarminda

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

  • JasonPromotesU

    @GS_Design Thank you so much for the RT.

  • ThePRCoach

    @commaim Totally agree Craig!

  • glenn_ferrell

    @seocopy Thx Gabriella !

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  • HowieSPM

    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.

  • HowieSPM

    @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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • glenn_ferrell

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

  • glenn_ferrell

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

  • glenn_ferrell

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

  • glenn_ferrell

    @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.

  • glenn_ferrell

    @3HatsComm Well said 🙂

  • HowieSPM

    @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)

  • HowieSPM

    @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.

  • rbbPR

    @theresaagonia @dianewolfPRx @prweb Thanks for the RT!

  • ginidietrich

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

  • glenn_ferrell

    @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.

  • glenn_ferrell

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

  • ericamallison

    @3hatscomm Love the profile pic, Davina!

  • 3HatsComm

    @ericamallison Thanks 🙂

  • URNUTEACHER

    @jeffbullas @ginidietrich You only need one: Perception

  • URNUTEACHER

    @jeffbullas @ginidietrich You only need one: Perception

  • Isascribla

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

  • 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.

  • anniemeikle

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

  • SpinSucks

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

  • SpinSucks

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

  • glenn_ferrell

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

  • glenn_ferrell

    @girlygrizzly Hi Amber – glad you liked it 🙂

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  • ginidietrich

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

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  • 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!

  • Imdoinme14

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

  • glenn_ferrell

    @ewittke Nicely said Eric.

    And thanks for the thumbs up 🙂

  • glenn_ferrell

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

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