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The Apparent Evils of PR

Friend and PR guru Tom Murphy bemoans the ongoing villification of the PR industry. He cites a feisty piece from the Daily Telegraph, which reads in part:

More than ever, PR is seen as part of the marketing mix. Creating buzz around a product or a personality can often generate greater attention than traditional display advertising – and at lower cost. Today’s cynical consumers can sometimes be reached more effectively through intelligent PR campaigns than simple paid-for communications. Even measuring their impact and value can be easier than with straightforward adverts.

Tom responds with a lengthy polemic, but wraps up with a number of fine points:

1) Consumers are more sophisticated today than at any time in the past

2) The Editors of a magazine are responsible for the published content of their magazines. That is their value. Should they tarnish that value by allowing PR people to manipulate them then they no longer deserve the patronage of their readers.

3) Spin doctors and A-list celebrity PRs inhabit a different world to the hundreds of thousands of practitioners who work hard to help clients to communicate better.

4) The sooner these “PR” people are exposed the better for everyone involved.

5) PR has increased in popularlity because organizations have realised the importance of good communication.

I’m not sure the general populace appreciates a related point: the majority of news stories start as a press release. This is true for 80% or 90% of the business and arts and leisure sections of the newspaper. The paper’s front section works similarly–most news stories start with some media relations professional calling, faxing or emailing a journalist or editor.

Maybe this wasn’t the case 25 or 50 years ago. If so, what’s changed? I’m not certain, but I’ll speculate that it’s because newspaper readership is declining, so there’s less money and fewer journalists. At the same time, PR has risen as an industry, and editors and journalists are willingly influenced by them.

2 Responses to “The Apparent Evils of PR”

  1. Myron

    I tend to instinctively gravitate towards a variation on your explanation — how about “concentrated media ownership with a focus on the bottom line, emphasis on costcutting, fire ‘unnecessary’ journalists and take advantage of ‘prewritten’ press releases”?

    To be fair, this is an extrapolation of some articles I read with respect to pressure on journalists to write stories conforming to the political leaning of ownership (usually to the right). I can’t put my mouse on the source, although I could probably find it.

    In any event, I HAVE noticed a preponderance of ‘reporting’ in different Arts and Business pages that bears such a similarity to each other that it could only be explained by blatant cribbing from some other source.

  2. Ross laird

    Yes, PR is rising as an industry, and in my business (book publishing and teaching) publicists are the new breed of gotta-know-ems. But as an industry, PR is still in its squalling infancy: no code of ethics, ad hoc practice standards, too many people with only a bright and plastic smile to recommend them.

    I’ve been through five publicists in the last four years. I’ve had a spate of professionalism problems with all but the first one (who, sadly, switched companies). Who in business these days can get away with not calling clients back? Publicists and contractors. A rough bunch indeed.

    Eventually they will have to become a more professional group. Or else more people will leave them behind, and do what many of us do already for publicity: blog, network, shout on the streetcorner.

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