When a PR company makes a mistake, the media are merciless, as they should be. What people fail to understand these days, is that the media no longer depend on PR to get inside access to stories, or “exclusives.” Consumers are far stronger today, and often their preferences dictate the tone of the news. If any one is dependent on the media, that’s PR – you cannot get a story out unless you know how to tell it. And while PRs usually know how to spin, they are, in many cases, totally oblivious of what makes the news – or they choose to be.
Not long ago, the Redner Group, a company that used to represent Duke Nukem Forever (DNF), threatened to revoke privileges for future game reviews for all media outlets that published negative reviews of the game. As a result, the media crucified the company, and the PR industry as whole, along the lines. The issue got severe enough to attract the attention of the PRSA, who felt compelled to issue a statement. In the statement, the PRSA applauded the Redner Group’s “mea culpa” and insisted that threatening to publish publications that don’t write favorably about a product is unethical:
“Threatening to punish publications that do not write favorable reviews for a product or service goes against a core tenet of ethical public relations regarding the protection and advancement of the free flow of accurate and truthful information that is essential to serving the public interest and contributing to informed decision making in a democratic society.”
But the PRSA failed to identify the real problem. Often, PRs feel like they can dictate the news. This was always the issue between the media and the people in PR. The truth is that PRs are dependent on the media for their own livelihoods. You cannot do your job in this line of work if you cannot have a story published – and while paying mommy bloggers to review stuff has its own advantages, nothing has more weight than news published by the likes of WIRED.com, AdAge.com, TechCrunch and others.
For the Redner Group, this was a random mistake, that cost a lot in terms of reputation. But this mistake affects the PR industry as a whole. Every time one of us gets a well deserved scorning, the media have the opportunity to generalize, an opportunity they never miss.