Of all the professional skill groups that can be included in the marketing toolkit, public relations is the most ridiculous (PR is also used for public affairs and other non-marketing activities). Filled with backwards unethical and untrained professionals that consistently spam people and promote attention metrics instead of actual outcomes, the PR profession can’t help its poor image.
Consider these recent develops:
1) A top “social PR” firm blog touts that PR has successfully evolved to meet the social media era, providing clients much wider teach than the prior narrow trade and biz pub market of the 21st century. Really? Based on the crappy spam pitches I get on all of my social media channels and email, I can’t agree. The vast majority of agencies pitching social channels are far from successful. Carpet bombing social channels with spam is not demonstrative of evolution.
No, the sector hasn’t changed much, IMO. And frankly, pitching bloggers is not social marketing. It’s a small tactic in a much larger suite.
2) Two U.S. Senators decide to investigate the Obama Administration’s use of taxpayer money for PR. Um, OK. Welcome to the nastiness of DC politics during an election year.
BUT WAIT! The PRSA decides to participate in this grandstanding and defend the integrity of PR. Isn’t that like defending the sanctity of gambling? Meanwhile… Industry pros keep spamming media outlets, highlighting attention and reach metrics, pitching their agencies for awards, and generally pissing off the business community, all while collecting their retainers.
3) An agency March Madness tournament (Agency Insanity) pits socially “savvy” PR agencies against each other to find the best online firm. The winner is determined by Klout score, the ultimate attention metric. Right. Meanwhile… Spam still piles up in blogger boxes, and clients think the agencies are doing meaningful work.
Look this list could go on ad infinitum. Criticizing bad PR is easier than making fun of Kim Kardashian (speaking of PR attention). As you can see, the sector has a penchant for dramatics, hype and red herrings, much of which has little to do with business reality.
Can PR Save Itself?
Look, not every PR pro represents the worst case scenario. I know many strong ethical public relations professionals.
From a business perspective, good PR often comes down to your team, thus the importance of vetting agencies and staff closely. Generally, you can’t teach people character. You can’t force people to be professional, engage in ethical behavior or adapt a strong work ethos.
We’re talking about an industry that works on building perceptions. When perception is not based in factual realities, it become spin. Yet, this is what we pay PR pros to do. Further, the barriers to entry are so low that the sector attracts people from all walks of life, serious and not. The resulting image crisis speaks for the sector’s ongoing dilemma.
Given the industry’s dynamics, working with PR pros will always be hit or miss, and there will always be laughable and despicable moments alike. The best defense from getting shanghaied by a PR spinner is the ability to choose quality professionals who can deliver results.
Personally, I used to be a public relations professional. Like Shel Israel, I now consider myself in recovery from a PR career. Thank God.
What do you think? Is the PR sector salvageable, or will it always be a comedy of errors?