Over the last several weeks I cannot tell you how many times we have iterated that PR is not advertising. Terminology is so indicative, insinuative and even symbolic. For PR professionals to adopt terms like “pitch” or “spin” is foolishness. Anyone old enough to watch a TV show identifies these terms with door to door salesmen. Public relations is not about “selling”, it is about “telling”.
Look at it this way, if your firm is forced into a situation where it will have to “spin” a story rather then simply telling it, who is going to win out in the end? No one! The company relying on your ability to essentially lie, will lose those customers as soon as they find out the flaw or irregularity that was being sugar coated or downright lied about. This is a fact.
In a recent blog post on The PR News Blog, Dianne Schwartz iterated the crux of this idea better than I ever could. In talking about a recent damage control effort for AIG, and as far as that company’s role in dealing with these issues, she said:
The best PR can do is answer questions, manage what’s left of AIG’s reputation, and help repair its image during its supposed recovery.
There it is in black and white as the saying goes. Communicating is what PR companies do above all else, this is what we are paid to do. Sure, we need to know maintain any number of tools and skills to do so properly, but this is what we are paid to do. We are paid to give advice on how to communicate to the public – period. This may seem like menial work for demeaning to the profession to some, but anyone who knows how difficult it is to communicate “properly” to a disparate public, knows the true inherent value. Good PR is like having a good translator, or someone to relay a message when the phone is out. It is crucial to relay ideas and messages, even personality so that it is exactly understood and accepted.
Perhaps this is where the difficulty arises. PR has come to represent advertising for companies and individuals to a degree because of public perception of sometimes overzealous professionals past and present. I think it is somewhat natural to be biased about the people and friends we work for, so taking this to the extreme has caused many a calamity when the story does not reflect the actual truth. The situation is not helped by the fact that nearly everyone assumes a PR is just someone how builds things up. Here is a Wikipedia definition you might find both interesting and sad too.
Spin (public relations), a heavily biased portrayal of an event or situation
Another black and white slap in the face to modern PR professionals. We have become BS artists to many people, now if anyone wonders why some question the value of PR? I another interesting article describing a shift from advertising to PR with regard to marketing, Barbara K. Mednick of Concept Marketing Group makes some valid points. According to Mednick, PR has taken on some of the roles of advertising because of its relative low cost, effectiveness and other factors. Like any good BS, this article skillfully blends truth with fiction in just the right proportions. But, like anything else, there is wisdom even in good BS. (I do not advocate PR even being marketing).
The two key reasons for this are: the relatively low cost of public relations and the credibility it delivers as compared to paid advertising or other types of marketing.
Please note the bold case for the word “credibility”. What happens to any PR’s credibility once media or the public find out they are selling rather than telling? These short term philosophies for your PR, have already cost your company and you did not even know it. This article goes on to describe methodologies that are sometimes good for PR, and at others, pure encyclopedia salesman strategies. True, telling a story about a client is a little bit like sales, but not the kind the general public has in mind when they think of pitches and spins on things. We need to be very careful of what we condone. I for one, do not want to be selling used cars next year. My skill set is not lined up that way, and I find it impossible to lie.
Public relations, just how hard is this term to define? Even Wikipedia has a better definition than some marketing (slash) PR firms: “Public relations (PR) is the practice of managing the flow of information between an organization and its publics.” Managing should never mean spinning or pitching in my book, the terms carry to derogatory a sense now a days. I like to be asked; “Phil, how would you relate that to the people?” We do use the English language don’t we? It has terms to define or accentuate nearly anything under the sun, can’t we just use the root term for the name of our profession? Think about it.