Last week, due especially to events in Washington, our profession came under fire again. The general public once again was presented evidence that professional communicators are ruthless spin doctors whose only mission in life is to present whatever truths or “facts” they need to, in whatever light necessary, to advance their agendas. It’s cringeworthy at best, and downright horrific at worst.
I was asked by several PR professionals I respect and admire, some of whom own their own agencies, what we can do to combat this ongoing narrative and defend the reputation for strong value-added counsel and decency that many of us have worked our entire careers to earn. I’ve given it even more thought since, and here’s what I’d suggest we do about it:
- Act like the true professionals we are. We have an obligation to model with our actions in our work what we all hold true about our industry: accuracy, ethics, quality, decency and more. Actions speak louder than words, after all – hopefully as more people see PR done right, they will form better opinions.
- Remind people of our ethical foundations. PRSA members adhere to a Code of Ethics that is as strong and sound as any ethical foundation in any industry. Many of us attend events, conferences, webinars, etc. to learn more about how we can do our jobs the right way. We can’t be shy about telling others about it!
- Take conversations up a level. So often, what is interpreted as “spin” is tactical in nature – it’s one or a few particular events, often taking place outside of a broader context. So it’s left up to outsiders how to interpret them – and they sure are drawing their own conclusions. As I’ve been saying for years, through my Umbrella Model and other things, PR is STRATEGIC – not just tactical. It’s about how we deploy strategic communications to advance an organization. It goes way beyond a single press conference, or a single Tweet, or . PR is all about creating programs that tie communications elements together to drive value in the right way. We have to recast the dialogue in a way that enables us to prove our value to business and the public – or we’ll forever be at the mercy of tactic-based public opinion.
These attacks on our profession won’t go away overnight – they’ve been happening for years, and I’m sure they’ll keep on coming for some time to come. Little by little, bit by bit, we have a duty and responsibility to set the record straight. I hope you’ll join me in continuing the effort.
This concept also dovetails nicely with a few posts I wrote a few weeks ago about the importance of honesty and integrity in communications, keeping everything in the proper perspective and applying that perspective. These are necessary themes for all of us going forward, and I’ll do my best to remind you all of them from time to time.