Hotwire Blog

15 April, 2008

PR conspiracy theories

Reading Professor David Miller and Dr William Dinan’s story in The Independent Monday 14 April about the public relations industry I had to ask myself whether I had spent the last twenty years in a parallel universe. Miller and Dinan have written a highly emotionally charged article where they say that PR poses a real threat to journalists and news. Their main beef is PR in politics but they must have put pen to paper in a pretty sad moment and in their highly charged and negative article manage to criticise the industry wholesale.

Since Gutenberg invented the printing press humans have been given an increasing number of communications outlets. Today we are literally bombarded by opinions and news. Does it not make sense therefore that companies, governments, political parties, politicians and other groups and individuals that have things to say, issues to communicate and have interaction – reactive or proactive – with journalists and the media, have someone to help them do this? Journalists are people with natural scepticism and even with ‘us lot’ on board there is no way they will be manipulated. Miller and Dinan talk of control of the information environment. Having dealt with reporters through a long working career I just can’t see it happening.

Parallels with other industries drive home what nonsense this piece is. For instance, who does their own accounts and tax returns? Accountancy and finance is a specialist profession which requires a great degree of skill and very few people or companies would even dream of attempting to do their own tax return. We have teachers and university professors because society decided that teaching children and young people at home wasn’t as good as specialised places of learning. With the proliferation of media outlets, journalists working 24/7 and a very critical society where reporters and ‘commentators’ delight in bringing us down a peg or two, it is pretty unlikely that people and organisations with something to say would attempt to deal with the media on their own.

It may be that there are a few rotten apples in my industry but which profession doesn’t have those? Miller and Dinan come across as conspiracy theorists, digging up examples from 1919 and twisting new tools such as webcasts and the use of video as proof that the world of PR is rotten to the core.

If I come across as offended it is because I am. It annoys me immensely to read such nonsense. Even worse, in a newspaper I respect a lot. I am immensely proud of my industry. It is full of excellent people who do a fantastic job helping their clients and employers tell the world what they are all about. PR people work for charities to help raise funds to feed people living in areas struck by famine. PR people work for companies who sell products and services and who employ us all and pay tax to pay for university professors. PR people work for political parties who are keen that voters understand what they stand for. What is wrong with that?


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