Does PR Have a Reputation Problem with the Media?

When Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg took a trip to DC last week to assure politicians that Facebook was taking serious the claims about Russian meddling in our elections, it was referred to as a “PR Blitz” by The New York Times, which also mentioned in the NY Times article that the social network hired three crisis communications firms (three, not one or two. Imagine that!).

The never-ending revelations swirling around Harvey Weinstein led to PR firms and others dropping him like a hot potato. When an online Fox News article put a certain word in quotations: former Obama advisor Anita Dunn “counseled the Tinseltown titan,” you know that reporter or editor is skeptical that a PR person can offer counsel. Quotation marks make a big difference.

Every day, PR is doing its job rather well. Communicators are managing reputations and fostering relationships with its various and varied constituencies. One major constituency it’s still suffering reputation problems with is the media. Journalists are the ones to point out the PR road show, the publicity tour for xyz executive or company, the PR spin.

Even niche media brands across the pond take swipes at PR. To wit, John Hagan, chairman of the Industry Group for Responsible Gambling, this month spoke to The Racing Post about the industry’s push to educate the public about responsible gambling. Responsible Gambling Week is not a PR push, he insisted. “There will be negative press but this is not a PR campaign….I really believe this week can make a difference by helping people understand what it means to gamble responsibly.”

How is educating the public and sharing the story of responsible gambling not a role of PR?

Is there a misunderstanding that PR is called in only when all else is lost, when it “comes to that”? And if PR takes an active role in a news story, then the act in question takes on even more scrutiny. Does it really help our profession when word leaks that industry association, PRSA, suggests the possibility of removing “PR” from its name?

Why are we hiding PR? Or, rather: Why are we hiding, PR?

Much of what communicators do is behind the public scenes, driving reputations, crafting the right stories, dispelling the negativity, informing and exciting constituents. It is at times thankless and rewarding.

As I’ve contended so many times in this blog, PR is not a four-letter word posing as two letters. PR is need to have, not nice to have. Public Relations people claim they are the market’s first storytellers. And good storytelling is the pillar that bolsters PR as a profession. If we can’t tell our stories well then we have not done our jobs and the stories will get told without us, crafted by witting and unwitting stakeholders.

Which brings me back to the media. We need reporters to have a healthy dose of skepticism – it’s good for society. And this very group that relies on PR for some of their job function are often the ones making PR look bad, whether it’s putting “counsel” in quotes, treating a series of meetings as a PR blitz, or casually referring to PR counterpart as hacks.

Media relations and PR should fit like hand in glove. It is beholden on all communicators to create more trust among journalists and their editors, to leverage its messaging skills for good, and to make sure the right story does not get hijacked by ill-intentioned players.

— Diane Schwartz

@dianeschwartz