Voice for PR: Some Advocacy, Little Formal Lobbying by PR Orgs

There’s no question that PR associations aim to help their members—from professional development to generating helpful research to producing key events. This member focus is practiced by all of the major communications associations. But what about these organizations projecting their efforts on the PR profession as a whole? How much effort are the major PR associations putting into lobbying and advocating for PR practitioners? PR News decided to take a look at the scope of formal lobbying and other forms of advocacy by major PR bodies.

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  • Arthur Yann, APR

    Hi Scott,

    I enjoyed reading this article, but it seems a bit indifferent to what organizations such as PRSA, the Council of PR Firms and IABC actually are doing to move the industry forward.

    Say what you will about formal lobbying (which none of the industry organizations you mention sees as an effective use of organizational resources). PRSA chooses instead to advocate for greater acceptance, adoption and understanding of public relations services through its recently introduced industry advocacy campaign, “The Business Case for Public Relations.” We also lend PRSA’s voice to the discussion of pressing business and societal issues and events where we can demonstrate the strategic and financial value of public relations. The financial cost of Tiger Woods’ efforts to protect his reputation is one such example.

    PRSA also advocates for greater racial and ethnic diversity in the public relations profession through its Diversity and Multicultural Communications Committee and Diversity Today blog, and for ethical standards of behavior among public relations professionals through its Board of Ethics & Professional Standards and Code of Ethics.

    Over the past few years, manifestations of this program have included:

    * Testifying before Congress against the “Truth in Broadcasting Act of 2005,” which would have increased regulation of video news releases (VNRs) in the wake of the Armstrong Williams scandal. Armstrong used his news program to promote the Department of Education – a paying client – without disclosing the exchange of value.

    * Speaking out in the wake of a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) press conference, at which agency staff members posed as journalists. This resulted in PRSA being invited by FEMA to conduct communications ethics training for its personnel.

    * Counseling our members and the broader public relations industry against the use of disingenuous editorial content, including fake product reviews, paid blogging and hired Tweeters, as well as anonymous Internet postings, front groups, fake employees and other unethical practices.

    * Defending the industry in the wake of high-profile criticism from “CBS News Sunday Morning,” “The Rachel Maddow Show,” The New York Times, USA Today and other media outlets.

    * Issuing calls for federal communications policies that would avert conflict of loyalty allegations, such as those made in a memoir by former Bush White House press secretary Scott McClellan, and for candidates for elective office to run clean and fair campaigns that eschew the use of innuendo, surrogate messaging and character attacks.

    We also track emerging legal, regulatory and legislative issues that affect other industries and could, by extension, be applied to the practice of public relations. The changes recently proposed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to its “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising” are a good example. When that proposal was initially put forward, a number of widely circulated press reports misinterpreted the potential impact of those changes; through our own research, however, we were able to make sense of the intended changes  and offer our members guidance. We also submitted a point of view on behalf of the public relations during the public comment period for those changes.

    Some of the other issues that PRSA currently is monitoring on behalf of its members and the broader public relations industry include:

    * Draft legislation giving the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforcement powers to oversee online privacy policies and requiring a consumer opt-out for information shared by social media channels.

    * The FTC’s potential extension of its regulation on paid blogging to employees who post positive comments about their employer or its products or services.

    * Potential regulation of broadband frequencies by the federal government.

    * “Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act,” which would establish an executive-branch Internet “kill switch” for potential national security threats.

    I hope this presents a more rounded view of our efforts for PRNews readers.

    Arthur Yann is vice president, public relations, for PRSA.

  • Scott Van Camp

    Arthur–Thanks for keeping us in the loop on the PRSA’s activities. I’m sure we’ll be covering some of these in the near future.