Last week, in a 10-3 vote, an ethics advisory committee of the New York State Legislature passed a resolution that would require PR professionals who work with state officials to register – and therefore be categorized and listed accordingly – as lobbyists. In addition, any/all communication that these PR professionals have with the press or government officials would have to be disclosed.
To put it mildly, the fact this has advanced toward becoming law is shocking and deeply troubling. There are two main reasons for this.
First, New York is taking action toward regulating free speech. This would be a fundamental breach of the First Amendment, and a violation of many examples of precedent across the judicial system. No one should have to disclose or report any conversation they have with anyone, much less someone just trying to do their job and represent their organizations’ or clients’ interests. That’s simple common sense, not to mention one of the fundamental rights our nation is built upon. Plus, monitoring and overseeing communications in such a way would have a chilling effect – it would stifle or even obstruct the natural discourse inside and outside of government. It’s an impediment to the kind of open dialogue that’s essential to a democratic society, not the kind of rule that shields a government from unethical behavior.
Second, the State of New York would redefine what PR is – and cast us in a false, misguided light that suits the state government’s interests. This couldn’t be more wrong. I and many other leading individuals and groups across the industry see the discipline of PR as a holistic one in which organizations work to build and maintain relationships with their various publics. My Umbrella Model of PR is a testament to this. It’s true that lobbying is absolutely one way that an organization can communicate with its publics – in this case, officials who can make or influence policy. But to suggest that this alone constitutes PR is a gross oversimplification of the function. There’s so much more to what PR and communications are on both the strategic and tactical levels. This is yet another case in which people who really don’t understand what we do would shoehorn us into being what they want us to be, rather than letting us and the organizations we serve define that for ourselves. Furthermore, this kind of action would limit our ability to bring other elements of strategic communications to the table – and minimize the value that PR can bring to industry and society.
This action in New York is a direct threat to the PR industry. I strongly encourage all of you, whether you’re inside or outside the PR industry, to stand with the Public Relations Society of America and pretty much every other group or industry coalition with skin in the game in opposing this ill-advised mandate. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if there’s more I can do to enable your voice on this matter, or to educate you on the true value and breadth of public relations.