For the lay person reading this week’s Economist article about historical shifts in public relations, derisively titled, “Rise of the image men,” it would appear that public relations is viewed as the selfish younger brother or sister of advertising and marketing, desperately grasping at the glory and profits those industries have long enjoyed.
Fortunately, for the well-informed, The Economist’s pessimistic assessment couldn’t be further from the truth. Reality tells us that the profession is far more sophisticated, and delivers considerably more value, than it is often given credit for.
The article begins with a relatively thorough history of the early years of public relations. Unfortunately, the historical perspective largely ends there. The reader is left with little understanding of the great strides taken by the profession to establish strong ethical standards, successfully adopt new technologies, including social media and digital communications, and help businesses grow and prosper through innovative practices and strategies, among many other achievements.
In a letter to the editor of The Economist submitted this week by PRSA, and co-signed with John Paluszek, APR, Fellow PRSA, former PRSA chair and CEO, and current Global Alliance Chair, we noted that, “Public relations is widely recognized within the global business, nonprofit, NGO and public service communities as having progressed to the point where professionals are generating two-way communications, leading to mutual understanding, cooperation and reciprocal relationships at many levels of society.”
Had The Economist more thoroughly explored outside perspectives about public relations’ value, rather than relying on contumely and misinformed stereotypes, it likely would have found the following enlightening and informative for its readers:
- Public relations has served immeasurable public good. It has changed attitudes and behaviors toward some of the world’s most pressing social issues, from breast cancer awareness to drinking and driving to smoking and obesity.
- Women play a significant role in driving innovation within the profession. The article’s use of the pejorative label “image men” is insulting not only to the profession as a whole, but to female professionals, who make up a large swath of practitioners, including serving in senior-level positions in some of the world’s largest corporations.
- Public relations is a dynamic and multifaceted profession. Far more than merely utilizing publicity (which is a small subset and specialized discipline within public relations) to generate media attention, public relations is valued throughout the world for its abilities to help companies, executives and causes connect, engage and communicate with the public and their audiences, in a mutually-beneficial manner.
- The profession isn’t chasing the social media dreams of advertising and marketing; it already owns that vital realm.
- The industry is growing — rapidly. And in some ways, faster than its brethren, advertising and marketing. According to projections from the Veronis Suhler Stevenson 2008 Communications Industry Forecast 2010-14, the public relations industry will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 5.6 percent through 2014.
- Ethics guide the profession. Public relations professionals have a special obligation to practice their craft ethically, with the highest standards of truth, accuracy, fairness and responsibility to the public. The PRSA Code of Ethics provides a practical set of standards to follow in this regard.
But don’t just take my word for it. Many comments in response to the article refute rebut several of the misinformed and outdated claims made by The Economist. What are your thoughts?
RELATED: PRSA Op-Ed in CommPro.biz: PRSA to The Economist: PR Pros Are More than Merely ‘Image Men’ (Dec. 22, 2010)