EDITORIAL: PR misrepresented by media business

Are the gentlefolk of the press ignorant when it comes to PR, or

are they conspiring to infuriate the industry that helps them so

often?



On the up side, PR as a business is getting increasingly frequent

mention in the press right now. But, on the much-lower down side, most

of these stories fall into two equally annoying camps: the stories that

confuse PR with advertising, and the stories taking cheap shots at the

PR industry.



The cheap shots usually take the form of a journalist carping on about

an isolated, but unfortunately insensitive or ill-thought out press

release, as if it were tantamount to an act of terrorism itself.

Naturally, they rarely balance this with any talk of the thousands of PR

pros who are working long, hard days to get people back in the air, back

in hotels, back in restaurants, and so on.



In this vein - although the journalist was at least looking to balance

the argument - The New York Times rang PRWeek this week because a flack

working for Deepak Chopra had sent a release trying to capitalize on the

current "spiritual void." The reporter wondered, "Are PRs behaving like

snake-oil salesmen?" As we pointed out, this is a little like suggesting

that one dishonest attorney makes the entire profession corrupt.



The articles confusing PR with advertising are just as irritating

however.



Take last Tuesday's Newsday's piece, headlined "US War Battled On

Another Front: PR." The article then talks solely about advertising, and

how Charlotte Beers is considering buying airtime on the Al-Jazeera

network, and makes not a single mention of PR.



At the end of this article, Jeff Odiorne, a San Francisco ad man, is

quoted as saying that advertising on Al Jazeera depicting pasty

60-year-old Americans explaining the war is not going to change the

perceptions of teenage Muslims in the Middle East. In fact, as he said,

it is only "going to rub salt into the wounds." He is absolutely right,

which is exactly why the journalist should have been examining the

incredible potential for PR in this war, as the headline suggested he

would.



One of the most effective tools at Beers' disposal is third-party

endorsement.



In other words, the State Department might find respected Muslim

journalists and leaders who can bear testimony to the success of the

American Muslim community and to the fact that the US is focused on

eradicating terrorism, rather than oppressing a huge global

religion.



Beers might also ask experienced Middle-Eastern PR pros to find out

which media outlets people in that region can trust, and what they

believe about the current conflict. Only from that basis can you really

start to change the way America is seen. Hollywood and Madison Avenue

are perceived as part of the problem, and are therefore unlikely to

offer the solution.



Even the Ad Council has recognized the limitations of advertising in the

current situation, and has asked for the input of the Council of PR

Firms in devising a strategy to convey America's message to the Arab

world.



It is PR that has the real potential to change perceptions. But given

that the media seems to be missing that point, it is down to everyone in

PR to educate their contacts in the media. Wouldn't it be good to read

in the papers about the way PR is rising to the challenge. Here's

hoping ...



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