Danny Rogers: Today's PR is rarely spin and manipulation

In a poll for last week's 2012 Power Book, Britain's top professionals said the biggest problem with working in PR was the 'profession's image'.

Danny Rogers: Today's PR is rarely spin and manipulation
Danny Rogers: Today's PR is rarely spin and manipulation

Of course there's a certain irony therein. Five hundred of the best reputation managers in the UK are essentially complaining that their biggest challenge is their collective reputation. But then it was always said that the cobbler's children went the worst shod.

At a recent international conference Lord Bell, boss of the country's biggest PR agency, Bell Pottinger, said the PR industry was 'a lightning rod for mistrust' in our wider society. Bell was referring specifically to a recent sting against Bell Pottinger Public Affairs by The Independent newspaper, but pointing out generally the level of media mistrust of public relations professionals, which has seen two stings in the past weeks by The Sunday Times; first against ex-Tory treasurer Peter Cruddas and then lobbyist Ed Staite.

This week we have seen Neil Wallis, former deputy editor of the News of the World and latterly a PR professional, pilloried by the Leveson Inquiry for 'providing PR advice to senior Metropolitan Police officers' while still a journalist.

He was attacked in the media for allegedly advising Lord Stevens on his public image; the implication being that in return he may have been passed insider information on police activities.

PR has once again become a dirty word in the media, despite years of improving professional standards.

But mistrust still comes from an essential - possibly wilful, in the case of many journalists - misunderstanding of what PR executives actually do.

It is still too easy for many people to dismiss the discipline as spin and manipulation, without understanding the pluralist media landscape we now inhabit.

For example, when the stricken footballer Fabrice Muamba's family recently issued a picture of Muamba sitting up and smiling, via Twitter, this was actually an example of astute modern comms.

The only difference for PR professionals is that they are paid by a multitude of sources - companies, charities, entrepreneurs - to put their own case across. PR is predominantly the business of professional persuasion in an increasingly democratic public domain, which is very different from manipulation.

PRWeek and professional trade bodies the CIPR and the PRCA will continue to argue the profession's case in the light of such misunderstanding. But the good news is that the industry bloody-mindedly persists in growing - year-by-year - in staff numbers, revenues and professionalism.

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