Gini Dietrich

The (Wrong) Image of the PR Industry

By: Gini Dietrich | January 10, 2011 | 
132

On Friday, in the top five, I promised we would revisit the Economist article that Justin Goldsborough sent to me. Titled “Public Relations: Rise of the Image Man,” it’s a story that is a must-read if you are in the communication industry. I’m about to give you a Cliff’s Notes version (and my opinion), but please take 20 minutes later this week and read the full article.

It begins by giving the history of the more than a century of the industry’s “spinning” and ends by discussing the value of social media in our communication efforts (“the PR men are in danger of believing their own spin about the opportunities the online world will bring”).

“Ever since Lee’s (former journalist Ivy Lee, who some say is the father of PR) first spats with cynical hacks, public relations officers have been locked in an antagonistic, symbiotic relationship with journalists, with mutual contempt tempered by mutual dependency. They have also fought for influence within big corporations against their great rivals in the marketing and advertising departments. Yet, after a century of spinning, PR Man remains uncertain of his proper role. Is he a master manipulator? Is he the devil’s advocate (as long as Satan pays his fees)? Or is he a benign bridge-builder between the corporate world and the public?”

This made me think. I wonder how many books I have about the industry that have the word “spin” in the title? And not spin as in “Spin Sucks,” but spin as in this is what we do for a living (six, just in my office).

A few years ago, I saw Harris Diamond speak. He is the CEO of the holding company that owns both Weber Shandwick and Golin-Harris. I blogged about it at the time (before we had any readers) because I really liked him, but as an attorney turned CEO of not one, but two, PR firms, I was sorely disappointed at the message he was perpetuating about our industry.

And, between high-level people like him and this article, that message continues to grow.

My colleagues and our clients tease me about being ethical to a fault and I’m OK with that. I’d rather be honest than to allow people think they can hire us to spin the truth for them. I’d love to say everyone in our industry is like this, but I know (just like any other profession) there are snakes.

The idea that we all lie (or spin the truth) is exhausting and I’m tired of it. I’m tired of telling potential clients no, we won’t lie for them. I’m tired of reading articles like this one that are published in seemingly unbiased, yet highly influential, media. I’m tired of the spin.

So, other than standing up for our morals and values, not working with companies we don’t believe in, and continuing our own industry branding efforts, what are we going to do about this perception we’re fighting, not only with corporations, but also in mainstream media?

I found the image on the Valley PR Blog – thanks guys!

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

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132 Comments on "The (Wrong) Image of the PR Industry"

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KevinDeSoto
KevinDeSoto
5 years 5 months ago

we just keep on doing the “RIGHT” thing. truth will always prevail. eventually.
you rock gini. the good guys always win. again- eventually 🙂

KevinDeSoto
KevinDeSoto
5 years 5 months ago

we just keep on doing the “RIGHT” thing. truth will always prevail. eventually.
you rock gini. the good guys always win. again- eventually 🙂

robbyslaughter
robbyslaughter
5 years 5 months ago
I applaud you for wanting to make the PR industry one characterized by ethics and integrity. But, it’s going to be a long road, considering that the official PRSA Code of Ethics actually suggests that members merely “avoid conflicts of interests” and “avoid deceptive practices.” Seriously. And these are just *guidelines*, not policies! Shouldn’t PR folks—masters of written language—pick something stronger? How about: “PRSA members shall never engage in work where there is a clear conlict of interest.” How about: “PRSA members shall never intentionally decieve their clients or the public.” Go read these documents for yourself: http://www.prsa.org/AboutPRSA/Ethics/ http://www.prsa.org/AboutPRSA/Ethics/CodeEnglish/index.html I… Read more »
robbyslaughter
robbyslaughter
5 years 5 months ago
I applaud you for wanting to make the PR industry one characterized by ethics and integrity. But, it’s going to be a long road, considering that the official PRSA Code of Ethics actually suggests that members merely “avoid conflicts of interests” and “avoid deceptive practices.” Seriously. And these are just *guidelines*, not policies! Shouldn’t PR folks—masters of written language—pick something stronger? How about: “PRSA members shall never engage in work where there is a clear conlict of interest.” How about: “PRSA members shall never intentionally decieve their clients or the public.” Go read these documents for yourself: http://www.prsa.org/AboutPRSA/Ethics/ http://www.prsa.org/AboutPRSA/Ethics/CodeEnglish/index.html I… Read more »
ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 months ago

@robbyslaughter I was the PRSA president in Chicago in 2007 so I know these guidelines well. It’s sad and you’re right…if anyone can change the perception it SHOULD be the PR industry. I’m trying and with the likes of you and @KevinDeSoto and others, we’ll get there!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 months ago

@robbyslaughter I was the PRSA president in Chicago in 2007 so I know these guidelines well. It’s sad and you’re right…if anyone can change the perception it SHOULD be the PR industry. I’m trying and with the likes of you and @KevinDeSoto and others, we’ll get there!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 months ago

@KevinDeSoto I know. I know. The good guys always do win. But it’s so frustrating when some journalist spouts something off like this without ever having worked in the industry. I think I’ll write a letter to the editor. BTW…great seeing you here!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 months ago

@KevinDeSoto I know. I know. The good guys always do win. But it’s so frustrating when some journalist spouts something off like this without ever having worked in the industry. I think I’ll write a letter to the editor. BTW…great seeing you here!

KeithTrivitt
KeithTrivitt
5 years 5 months ago
Gini – Thank you for this wonderful post and for standing up for the PR industry so passionately. Like you, I, along with many others at PRSA, were very disappointed with The Economist article (and as an aside, from a few random conversations I had with business and media reporters who also read this article, many felt the same way and did not view PR nearly as derisively as The Economist article tried to portray the current state of affairs). To quickly address your question of what the PR industry will do to address misperceptions like this, I wanted to… Read more »
KeithTrivitt
KeithTrivitt
5 years 5 months ago
Gini – Thank you for this wonderful post and for standing up for the PR industry so passionately. Like you, I, along with many others at PRSA, were very disappointed with The Economist article (and as an aside, from a few random conversations I had with business and media reporters who also read this article, many felt the same way and did not view PR nearly as derisively as The Economist article tried to portray the current state of affairs). To quickly address your question of what the PR industry will do to address misperceptions like this, I wanted to… Read more »
robbyslaughter
robbyslaughter
5 years 5 months ago
@ginidietrich @KevinDeSoto A great summary of an outside view of the PR industry (from people like me who use PR services) is Paul Graham’s essay, “The Submarine” http://www.paulgraham.com/submarine.html The interesting question will be: what does it mean to do PR—especially media relations—with total integrity? If you have a relationship with a journalist that allows you to influence them, then you aren’t just another source. You might be totally honest with your client and that journalist, but the general public may get different news because of your efforts. Is that bias unethical? Furthermore, doesn’t your ability to write impact my ability… Read more »
robbyslaughter
robbyslaughter
5 years 5 months ago
@ginidietrich @KevinDeSoto A great summary of an outside view of the PR industry (from people like me who use PR services) is Paul Graham’s essay, “The Submarine” http://www.paulgraham.com/submarine.html The interesting question will be: what does it mean to do PR—especially media relations—with total integrity? If you have a relationship with a journalist that allows you to influence them, then you aren’t just another source. You might be totally honest with your client and that journalist, but the general public may get different news because of your efforts. Is that bias unethical? Furthermore, doesn’t your ability to write impact my ability… Read more »
ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 months ago
@KeithTrivitt Thanks Keith! I applaud you guys for taking such a strong stance on this. I was so disgusted, I didn’t dig into the Economist to see what others had written and shame on me for not doing so. I think the larger issue remains that we continue having trouble getting a seat at the table and, while articles like this certainly don’t help matters (how many more CEOs read The Economist than Spin Sucks?), our industry needs to learn some additional business skills in order to help change the perception. If we could figure out how to relate what… Read more »
ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 months ago
@KeithTrivitt Thanks Keith! I applaud you guys for taking such a strong stance on this. I was so disgusted, I didn’t dig into the Economist to see what others had written and shame on me for not doing so. I think the larger issue remains that we continue having trouble getting a seat at the table and, while articles like this certainly don’t help matters (how many more CEOs read The Economist than Spin Sucks?), our industry needs to learn some additional business skills in order to help change the perception. If we could figure out how to relate what… Read more »
KevinDeSoto
KevinDeSoto
5 years 5 months ago

@ginidietrich good idea. excellent content as usual gini !! keep up good work. yes- sometimes the things people do and say….. ugh.

KevinDeSoto
KevinDeSoto
5 years 5 months ago

@ginidietrich good idea. excellent content as usual gini !! keep up good work. yes- sometimes the things people do and say….. ugh.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 months ago

@robbyslaughter Oh great. Now you’re going to get my blood boiling again! You bring up great points. Let me read the link you provided and I’ll come back.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 months ago

@robbyslaughter Oh great. Now you’re going to get my blood boiling again! You bring up great points. Let me read the link you provided and I’ll come back.

KeithTrivitt
KeithTrivitt
5 years 5 months ago
@ginidietrich Great point re PR pros demonstrating their business acumen. It’s something I absolutely agree with you, and it’s a big reason why PRSA created the “Business Case for Public Relations” (http://ht.ly/3B8rn), as you know. Not sure why you didn’t see our various responses to this article. We tweeted about them, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. but alas, it looks like they missed crossing your screen (we try to avoid big e-mail blasts to members of information of this sort). It’s tough to gauge how much impact our responses had (though it was nice to see PRNewser pick it up and quote… Read more »
KeithTrivitt
KeithTrivitt
5 years 5 months ago
@ginidietrich Great point re PR pros demonstrating their business acumen. It’s something I absolutely agree with you, and it’s a big reason why PRSA created the “Business Case for Public Relations” (http://ht.ly/3B8rn), as you know. Not sure why you didn’t see our various responses to this article. We tweeted about them, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. but alas, it looks like they missed crossing your screen (we try to avoid big e-mail blasts to members of information of this sort). It’s tough to gauge how much impact our responses had (though it was nice to see PRNewser pick it up and quote… Read more »
SarahSkerik
SarahSkerik
5 years 5 months ago
When I read this over the holidays, I actually flipped back to the cover to check the date, fully expecting to see it say “1963.” I can only assume the writer received MadMen seasons 1-3 on DVD for Christmas and watched them end-to-end before drafting that article, so anachronisitic is his point of view. I work for PR Newswire and am a vendor – not practitioner. From my vantage point, I see/talk to/interact with large number and broad variety of PR pros. Almost to a person they are focused on translating PR to the new communications paradigm social media has… Read more »
SarahSkerik
SarahSkerik
5 years 5 months ago
When I read this over the holidays, I actually flipped back to the cover to check the date, fully expecting to see it say “1963.” I can only assume the writer received MadMen seasons 1-3 on DVD for Christmas and watched them end-to-end before drafting that article, so anachronisitic is his point of view. I work for PR Newswire and am a vendor – not practitioner. From my vantage point, I see/talk to/interact with large number and broad variety of PR pros. Almost to a person they are focused on translating PR to the new communications paradigm social media has… Read more »
wabbitoid
5 years 5 months ago
An excellent article for many reasons. First of all, we live in a world that generally buys its own BS, making us the victims of our own con. That’s pretty stupid and pointless. Thanks for doing your best to shine a light on this futility. The article is a great one because it starts from the begining. I often say that our society is at a dead-end, and that we have to either retrace our steps or sit down and wait for death. I’m all in favor of the former, and works like this are essential for that to happen.
wabbitoid
5 years 5 months ago
An excellent article for many reasons. First of all, we live in a world that generally buys its own BS, making us the victims of our own con. That’s pretty stupid and pointless. Thanks for doing your best to shine a light on this futility. The article is a great one because it starts from the begining. I often say that our society is at a dead-end, and that we have to either retrace our steps or sit down and wait for death. I’m all in favor of the former, and works like this are essential for that to happen.
punchakpr
punchakpr
5 years 5 months ago
Whenever I tell someone I’m studying PR I almost always get one of two responses: 1) So what do PR people do anyway? and 2) You must be good at lieing. I don’t mind the first response, but the second one always triggers me to go into this song and dance about how my future profession is not full of snakes (as you put it). However, they usually, and easily, respond with examples of a PR campaign that was less than exemplary. All in all, it’s an unfortunate stereotype to have following you. For some time now I’ve thought that… Read more »
punchakpr
punchakpr
5 years 5 months ago
Whenever I tell someone I’m studying PR I almost always get one of two responses: 1) So what do PR people do anyway? and 2) You must be good at lieing. I don’t mind the first response, but the second one always triggers me to go into this song and dance about how my future profession is not full of snakes (as you put it). However, they usually, and easily, respond with examples of a PR campaign that was less than exemplary. All in all, it’s an unfortunate stereotype to have following you. For some time now I’ve thought that… Read more »
robbyslaughter
robbyslaughter
5 years 5 months ago
@punchakpr @KeithTrivitt Both of those responses are not only offensive, they are also particularly ironic. PR is the business of communicating to the general public. If many people don’t know what PR professional actually do, then there’s tremendous irony that PR has such bad PR! And if PR is not primarily a business of deception, why would people suggest that it is? Again, why does PR have such bad PR? This is analogous to engineers working in buildings that continually collapse, doctors routinely made terrible medical decisions for themselves. PR should have fanatastic PR. That it doesn’t strikes at the… Read more »
robbyslaughter
robbyslaughter
5 years 5 months ago
@punchakpr @KeithTrivitt Both of those responses are not only offensive, they are also particularly ironic. PR is the business of communicating to the general public. If many people don’t know what PR professional actually do, then there’s tremendous irony that PR has such bad PR! And if PR is not primarily a business of deception, why would people suggest that it is? Again, why does PR have such bad PR? This is analogous to engineers working in buildings that continually collapse, doctors routinely made terrible medical decisions for themselves. PR should have fanatastic PR. That it doesn’t strikes at the… Read more »
wabbitoid
5 years 5 months ago

@robbyslaughter @punchakpr @KeithTrivitt
A brilliant statement of the obvious – that everyone (including me!) apparently has missed. Bravo!

wabbitoid
5 years 5 months ago

@robbyslaughter @punchakpr @KeithTrivitt
A brilliant statement of the obvious – that everyone (including me!) apparently has missed. Bravo!

sydcon_mktg
sydcon_mktg
5 years 5 months ago

One of the many reasons I follow you & frequent your blog is because of your honesty & integrity! We work with others in your industry, and can I just say if they were all like you it would make life much more pleasant! I think it says a lot about you as a person too. In this day and age, so many people are without any morals, I personally prefer to surround myself and be influenced by genuinely good, honest, moral individuals and businesses! Keep it up, Gini!

sydcon_mktg
sydcon_mktg
5 years 5 months ago

One of the many reasons I follow you & frequent your blog is because of your honesty & integrity! We work with others in your industry, and can I just say if they were all like you it would make life much more pleasant! I think it says a lot about you as a person too. In this day and age, so many people are without any morals, I personally prefer to surround myself and be influenced by genuinely good, honest, moral individuals and businesses! Keep it up, Gini!

MaureenB2B
MaureenB2B
5 years 5 months ago
As a B2B marketing strategist, I’m always promoting PR as the most important lead gen tool in B2B. I’m a HUGE PR fan, though not a practitioner. Regarding what *you* can do: as a community, you must, must, must always lead with Business Pain/Value first. For instance, if we wanted this blog post to get more play in a B2B business leader community, I would’ve started it in this type of vibe: “There is no better lead gen opportunity for B2Bs than to have thought leaders and influencers sing their praises. For prospects & customers – hearing from a credible… Read more »
MaureenB2B
MaureenB2B
5 years 5 months ago
As a B2B marketing strategist, I’m always promoting PR as the most important lead gen tool in B2B. I’m a HUGE PR fan, though not a practitioner. Regarding what *you* can do: as a community, you must, must, must always lead with Business Pain/Value first. For instance, if we wanted this blog post to get more play in a B2B business leader community, I would’ve started it in this type of vibe: “There is no better lead gen opportunity for B2Bs than to have thought leaders and influencers sing their praises. For prospects & customers – hearing from a credible… Read more »
KarenARocks
KarenARocks
5 years 5 months ago
Every industry has those that participate in not-so-ethical ways, and unfortunately PR is no different. The biggest jab to PR is that by lying/deceiving, it affects us deep within. I may get scammed on some business charging me a excessive fee for something, and I’ll get mad and that’s about it. But if someone messes with my trust, that’s a whole another issue. It’s like any relationship, once the trust is gone, so is the relationship. I have turned down health care jobs from those who want me to promote products/services where the claims are borderline shady. I won’t promote… Read more »
KarenARocks
KarenARocks
5 years 5 months ago
Every industry has those that participate in not-so-ethical ways, and unfortunately PR is no different. The biggest jab to PR is that by lying/deceiving, it affects us deep within. I may get scammed on some business charging me a excessive fee for something, and I’ll get mad and that’s about it. But if someone messes with my trust, that’s a whole another issue. It’s like any relationship, once the trust is gone, so is the relationship. I have turned down health care jobs from those who want me to promote products/services where the claims are borderline shady. I won’t promote… Read more »
sydcon_mktg
sydcon_mktg
5 years 5 months ago

@KarenARocks I think a follow up post showcasing honest PR folks is an outstanding idea!

sydcon_mktg
sydcon_mktg
5 years 5 months ago

@KarenARocks I think a follow up post showcasing honest PR folks is an outstanding idea!

KarenARocks
KarenARocks
5 years 5 months ago

@sydcon_mktg Thanks Jennifer. I’m currently working on another blog post idea, but I’ll have to add that in my queue. Or we could make it an awards show…everyone loves awards. Gini could host…Gini???

KarenARocks
KarenARocks
5 years 5 months ago

@sydcon_mktg Thanks Jennifer. I’m currently working on another blog post idea, but I’ll have to add that in my queue. Or we could make it an awards show…everyone loves awards. Gini could host…Gini???

punchakpr
punchakpr
5 years 5 months ago

@robbyslaughter @KeithTrivitt I couldn’t agree more. I’ve tried to figure out why PR can’t do it’s own PR. I couldn’t really come up with a good answer other. I ended up concluding (jokingly) that PR was too busy doing other people’s PR that it forgot about its own.

punchakpr
punchakpr
5 years 5 months ago

@robbyslaughter @KeithTrivitt I couldn’t agree more. I’ve tried to figure out why PR can’t do it’s own PR. I couldn’t really come up with a good answer other. I ended up concluding (jokingly) that PR was too busy doing other people’s PR that it forgot about its own.

punchakpr
punchakpr
5 years 5 months ago

@wabbitoid @robbyslaughter @KeithTrivitt I couldn’t agree more. I’ve tried to figure out why PR can’t do it’s own PR. I couldn’t really come up with a good answer other. I ended up concluding (jokingly) that PR was too busy doing other people’s PR that it forgot about its own.

punchakpr
punchakpr
5 years 5 months ago

@wabbitoid @robbyslaughter @KeithTrivitt I couldn’t agree more. I’ve tried to figure out why PR can’t do it’s own PR. I couldn’t really come up with a good answer other. I ended up concluding (jokingly) that PR was too busy doing other people’s PR that it forgot about its own.

sydcon_mktg
sydcon_mktg
5 years 5 months ago

@KarenARocks An awards show…now thats an idea! I am sure @ginidietrich would LOVE to be host!!!! 😉

sydcon_mktg
sydcon_mktg
5 years 5 months ago

@KarenARocks An awards show…now thats an idea! I am sure @ginidietrich would LOVE to be host!!!! 😉

Marketing_Guy
Marketing_Guy
5 years 5 months ago

Gini:

The strategies that you lay out in the post for doing the “right” thing are the correct course. As noted about the PR industry has bad PR. It takes some people to really start the fire to get people moving. Maybe this article will galvanize that movement. Thanks for the post.

Rob

Marketing_Guy
Marketing_Guy
5 years 5 months ago

Gini:

The strategies that you lay out in the post for doing the “right” thing are the correct course. As noted about the PR industry has bad PR. It takes some people to really start the fire to get people moving. Maybe this article will galvanize that movement. Thanks for the post.

Rob

bdorman264
bdorman264
5 years 5 months ago
And that is why you are so ‘followable’ because of your integrity and honesty……..trying to be funny but I do think it is obvious who is sincere and really trying to help someone (and you are definitely in that category). You shouldn’t have to preach ethics, but it sure seems like a lot of people need a refresher course. If you do what you say you are going to do, do it on time and say please and thank you really goes a long way to establish credibility. It really is the ‘little’ things that differentiate you from the pack.… Read more »
bdorman264
bdorman264
5 years 5 months ago
And that is why you are so ‘followable’ because of your integrity and honesty……..trying to be funny but I do think it is obvious who is sincere and really trying to help someone (and you are definitely in that category). You shouldn’t have to preach ethics, but it sure seems like a lot of people need a refresher course. If you do what you say you are going to do, do it on time and say please and thank you really goes a long way to establish credibility. It really is the ‘little’ things that differentiate you from the pack.… Read more »
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