EDITORIAL: Much like the industry as a whole, firms must use the right words to distinguish themselves

The language of the PR industry is changing, and that's a good thing. Or at least, the expectation is changing while the language is still catching up. A number of conversations I've had recently have highlighted the frustration felt by many that the profession fails miserably to express its value in tangible terms that mean something outside the confines of a PR conference. PRWeek and its readers, agency and non-agency, need to constantly monitor and limit the use of clichés, passive voice, and generalities when describing PR practices.

The language of the PR industry is changing, and that's a good thing. Or at least, the expectation is changing while the language is still catching up. A number of conversations I've had recently have highlighted the frustration felt by many that the profession fails miserably to express its value in tangible terms that mean something outside the confines of a PR conference. PRWeek and its readers, agency and non-agency, need to constantly monitor and limit the use of clichés, passive voice, and generalities when describing PR practices.

Similarly, PR agencies grapple for the right language to differentiate themselves from their competitors. An agency leader recently told me they had evaluated the descriptors and boilerplates of other agencies to see if they could identify which firm they belonged to. The idea was to see which organizations really are defining themselves through both words and reputation. Only one of the so-called "top-ten" firms was correctly named in the first round. Just as PR as a discipline must differentiate itself from the rest of the marketing mix, so too must agencies find ways to define their individual character in the market. Not an easy task when so much is dependent upon relationships and that beguiling intangible "culture," a word that simultaneously says so much and so little. Media is 'covert' in not admitting how PR aids it In his column on the opposite page, Paul Holmes gets right to the heart of the uproar over the White House-funded VNR on Medicare by the Department of Health and Human Services. Certainly, one can fairly argue that government should strive for higher standards of honesty and clarity on complicated issues that affect all Americans. The question of what constitutes "propaganda" is important. The paper quotes a Democratic senator denouncing this "covert" attempt to manipulate opinion. But if the VNR was properly identified to the news organizations, what's covert about it? If it wasn't identified, that's another story, and it's a significant question. But also significant is the responsibility of the news media to serve as gatekeepers and to own up to their reliance and relationship with PR tools, rather than feign horror as they reveal themselves. Moreover, there is a fundamental disingenuousness about the article in The New York Times that is almost as misleading as the VNRs it "exposes," at least to those readers ignorant of PR practices. No surprise, as the news media routinely pretends that PR does not play a vital role in its news-gathering process, which we know is absurd. When I worked in corporate communications for a large, often embattled holding company, much of my time was spent chasing information, photographs, and company statistics for journalists. My colleagues and I literally helped journalists build stories that ripped us apart. But the perception remains that PR departments merely fend off unwanted queries, or put a spin on unhappy news, and not that there is often a daily dialogue between PR departments and newsrooms - in print and broadcast - that helps fill pages and broadcast time. The mythology that good journalism keeps PR outside the news-gathering process is one that helps nobody understand the role that VNRs, and other PR tools, actually play.

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