PR’s Reputation – From the Dark Side into the Light

PR reputation - Solar Eclipse

By Amy Temple

The Hoffman Agency, London

While listening to my daughter’s favourite CD (the soundtrack from Dr Seuss’ “The Lorax”), I suddenly heard the lyrics, “The PR people are lying!” As I sat there feeling slightly bruised, my daughter proceeded to put two and two together. “Mummy, you do PR. You lie!” And what followed was a 10-minute discussion on how I don’t actually lie in my job and that the song is just being silly. I’m not sure she was convinced.

This started me thinking about PR’s reputation. It can at times be a dire one.

I thought back to all the times I’ve cringed when the bad guy in a TV drama is a PR professional. There are even movies where the lead character is so bad and soulless that he must undergo some miracle personality makeover.

The final straw came while reading the paper one morning. A story had broken about two PR professionals who had appeared in court on fraud charges. This in itself was bad for the reputation of PR, but the quote given by the judge was like throwing gas on the fire, insinuating that PR practitioners are surrounded by luxury items and must control themselves no matter how difficult it is.

It all paints a very bad picture of PR and what we really do and how we behave. It’s as though when you enter the PR profession you are required to give up your morals. Unfortunately, these are the types of one-off incidents that make headlines. We work in a misunderstood profession, and it begs the question; “How do we improve our reputation? How do we PR the PR?”

Let’s start by looking at what PR means. At its base, it is of course communication, but there is more to it than that. When practiced correctly, PR holds the ability to change behaviour. Think about all the good PR does; from raising the public’s awareness for charities to helping secure funding for new business ventures. Even the public, government and healthcare sectors benefit from the skills of PR, making the public aware of campaigns and initiatives.

One such example is the Be Clear on Cancer campaign, targeting lung cancer. Awareness of a lingering cough as a symptom of cancer rose to 50 per cent from the previous year and increased urgent referrals for suspected lung cancer by 30 per cent compared to when the campaign first started last year. PR, in this instance, has changed the public’s behaviour for a positive outcome.

PR professionals are not sneaky and manipulative, and we do not work for the dark side! We provide a beneficial service, informing the public and also helping businesses to grow. And yes, at times there is the occasional rotten apple, but ultimately PR provides value to society and makes a positive contribution. 

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