You may have seen the article/book review in the Feb. 10 issue of USA Today, in which public relations is characterized as “amoral, difficult to define, and difficult to measure,” and in other unflattering and uninformed ways. If you have not seen the article, you may access it here.
What appears below is a Letter to the Editor defending our profession, which is in keeping with an important part of our Member Code of Ethics: Public relations professionals are obligated to strengthen the public’s trust in what we do as a profession.
Please take a moment to read the article and our response and, if you’re so inclined, to add your voice to this discussion of our profession.
February 11, 2009
To the editor:
Seth Brown’s article and book review, “Despite Dim View of Public Relations, It May be Needed,” concludes that “PR is amoral, difficult to define, and difficult to measure.” Had Mr. Brown actually solicited input from the public relations industry in researching and writing his article, he would have come to a very different set of conclusions.
The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) champions a Code of Ethics for its 32,000 professional and student members and, more broadly, the public relations industry at large. The values it advances—Advocacy, Honesty, Expertise, Independence, Loyalty, and Fairness—are fundamental beliefs that guide the industry’s behaviors and decision-making process. The PRSA Code also contains specific provisions for advancing the free flow of accurate and truthful information, and for disclosing all information necessary to foster informed decision making in a democratic society.
In our complex, pluralistic society, public relations helps individuals reach decisions and function more effectively by contributing to mutual understanding among groups and institutions. It aids businesses, governments, and other organizations in understanding the attitudes and values of different audiences in order to further the achievement of their institutional goals. The public relations practitioner is a counselor to management and a mediator, helping to translate private aims into reasonable, publicly acceptable policies and actions, and to mitigate risks.
The outcomes that public relations drives are no longer difficult nor expensive to measure, and include both attitudinal and behavioral metrics, as well as financial measures, such as return-on-investment. Public relations’ effect on sales, market share, brand awareness, stock price, reputation and trust, customer satisfaction, fundraising, employee morale and retention, event participation, Web site traffic, and regulatory changes can all be quantified, by way of example.
Mr. Brown also decries the industry’s lack of formal training. In fact, PRSA maintains student chapters at 302 colleges and universities that offer baccalaureate degrees, are accredited by nationally or regionally recognized accrediting associations or boards, and offer a sequence of at least five courses in public relations that are supplemented by ancillary courses allied to this field of study.
Furthermore, PRSA and the Universal Accreditation Board, a consortium of 9 public relations and communications organizations, administer a course of study and testing that allow individuals to become Accredited in Public Relations (APR). The APR designation proves that an industry professional has successfully demonstrated competency in the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to practice public relations effectively in today’s business arena.
As for Mr. Brown’s use of “Hitler, Goebbels, and the Nazi propaganda machine” as a metaphor for the public relations industry, I would hasten to add that Hitler was a book author, as well.
Michael Cherenson, APR
Chair and CEO
The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)