Gini Dietrich

The (Wrong) Image of the PR Industry

By: Gini Dietrich | January 10, 2011 | 
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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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