EDITORIAL: Media is pressing PR a bit too hard

Another week, another rash of stories about PR people. Thanks to

the likes of Billy Crystal, Marina Ein, Lizzie Grubman and Ari Fleischer

the world at large must be sick of hearing about the art of

spokespersonery.



Of course, because it is journalists reporting all these pieces on PR

people, they can't resist the temptation to add a little spin of their

own to the portrayal of their daily sparring partners. A feature in The

Washington Post last week poked fun out of the incestuousness of Grubman

appointing her own spokesperson. It went on to describe the daily

activities at the "Spokesperson's Summer Camp" as "misleading,

stonewalling, blowing smoke, and, lying like a dog in the dirt."



Harmless fun, or another example of the denigration of the public image

of PR?



It's true that PR as a profession has not emerged so well from the

dot-com fallout, having to share the burden of over-hyping paper-tiger

companies with advertisers and venture capitalists.



And it's a function of being the one that brings the occasionally

unpalatable message that you risk getting fired at. But notwithstanding

these justifications, it does seem somewhat ironic that the media is

proving so virulent at a group of people who are only in business

because the media itself has grown so demanding.



What the public (via the media) needs to understand is that the

spokesperson issuing an unhelpful "no comment," or the publicist making

up stories about a movie's stars represents only a small fraction of the

work of the PR industry.



Surely if anyone can put this message over, it should be PR

practitioners themselves?



On page 10, we cover a prime example of the kind of communications task

that could counter all this negative publicity, if only it were

recognized as such. Media Watch looks at how the media has covered the

controversial subject of stem cell research.



This issue has been fed on both sides by the lobbying efforts of the

pro-life and pro-development groups. Although this has turned into

something of a media melee (particularly when two sets of children were

brought to appear before a Senate committee), the information provided

by each side, and disseminated in the media, has served to feed healthy

discussion on the topic. Whether Bush ultimately changes the law to

allow stem cell research or not, no one can say that there hasn't been

enough consideration of the options, and PR deserves some credit for

explaining those options.



PR's chance to show its true value



Here's a nice juicy piece of business for an agency looking for its big

break - re-building public faith in the US electoral system.



A panel headed by Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford last week recommended a

major overhaul of the way the media projects winners in presidential

elections before polls have closed in all states. They also put forward

a variety of measures to make it easier for people to vote.



Of course, all these procedural items must be tackled. But the biggest

task, and one which is as far away from the work of Crystal, Ein and

Grubman as it could be, is to communicate to voters that they can cast

their ballots with confidence and that their voice will be heard.



There could not be a more worthy way for PR to publicly prove its worth.



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