Wishing for a Valentine’s Day Gift for PR

Since it’s Valentine’s Day, it’s the right time to discuss what we love about PR and marketing. There’s plenty to say.

We’re unsure if PR pros love their jobs, but we know they like them. Three editions of PR News’ Salary Survey (2018, 2017, 2016) show the majority of PR pros are “either satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their jobs. Spoiler Alert: the 2019 edition of the survey, which debuts soon, confirms this conclusion.

Incidentally, marketers are the most romantic professionals, according to a new survey.  OnBuy.com polled 3,000 U.S. workers. An overwhelming majority of marketers and salespeople (78 percent) said they plan to celebrate Valentine’s Day today. The least romantic? IT pros, just 37 percent said they’d celebrate today.

Technology Leaps

With tech advancements, there’s much to like about how the profession has progressed. PR pros and marketers can know their target audiences better than ever. The ability and ease of marketers and communicators to research audiences is at a level unimagined even 10 years ago. Conducting online surveys is a snap compared to the pre-digital era.

With social media listening, communicators can converse with audience members any time and from anywhere. It’s a cliché to say technology has made the world smaller, but we often forget how difficult some things were just a few years ago.

Similarly, technology has helped the media relations side of PR. There’s a plethora of tools that can instantly tell PR pros which journalists have written what, where and when. Pitching and media training can benefit immensely when these tools are used properly.

A word too about all the good PR pros do, promoting numerous charitable causes and CSR activities.

With all this technological wizardry at its disposal, PR should be a 24/7 love fest. Valentine’s Day should be every day. Why it’s not could take a long time to discuss. One quick explanation is that technology is fine, but PR remains much more about people and relationships.  Twenty PR pros at a recent PR News/PublicRelay communications leaders roundtable came to that conclusion.

The Human Factor

While it’s people who make PR great, humans, as we know, aren’t perfect. The technology mentioned above is excellent at quickly disseminating brand narratives. It’s equally good, maybe better, at spreading misinformation.

Unfortunately more than a few PR practitioners use technology for nefarious purposes.  The Bell Pottinger case is one example. Another involves Facebook, which allegedly hired a PR firm to discredit its critics. Facebook abruptly fired the firm when the NY Times’ 5,600-word bombshell appeared in mid November, describing other undesirable practices.

Having one of the chief communicators at the White House admit her job forces her to tell “white lies” at times also hurts the general public’s view of the PR profession. Equally unfortunate is that these bad examples of PR often receive widespread media coverage. This creates an image problem for the industry.

PR Pro on TV

Another example of PR’s tarnished image, one that will be coming to your television (Feb. 21, Pop TV), is “Flack,” a 6-episode, scripted drama starring Academy Award-winner Anna Paquin (see photo). Her character, Robyn, the series’ protagonist, is a publicist in the London office of a big PR firm. While Flack doesn’t raise many important issues of PR–it uses PR as a background to tell Robyn’s life story–the picture it paints of PR ethics isn’t flattering.

There are some good sides. Robyn dresses well and lives very high in London. Her clients are celebrities, so she’s the envy of friends and relatives as she galavants between parties, clubs, boudoirs and restaurants. The disregard she shows for spending company funds will make actual PR pros envious. While her office is merely a desk, she barely seems to be stuck in long, tedious meetings. She has an intern who does much of the tedious work for her. For PR as an industry, that’s the good part of the series.

Hope Springs Eternal

The less-good portion is how Robyn gets her clients in and out of the papers and social media-she lies. And based on the first two episodes that were made available to us, we’re not talking Hope Hicks white lies. It’s TV, so sex and drugs play their parts in the story. And, really, would the daily life of a PR pro attract TV viewers? A modest proposal: How about an episode about PR measurement? That’s a sure ratings winner.

Seriously, it’s not a TV series’ job to bolster PR’s image.

By the way, it’s not bad television. It’s important to see an empowered female lead character. And Paquin is good in the role. The head of the London office also is a woman, which is another plus, especially considering the paucity of women in leadership roles in PR. Some of the writing is outstanding. The ensemble and guest stars are top notch. Flack also has the added attraction of London.

Sometimes after a season or two of success, TV series evolve. Sometimes they take subjects more seriously. Should Flack live on (it’s a limited series now), it might revise its portrait of the PR professional. We’re not asking for a Valentine, just a bit more reality.

Seth Arenstein is editor of PR News.  Follow him: @skarenstein