Don't let isolated scandals slow industry's positive momentum

A little-known PR firm in Birmingham, AL, allegedly pays a freelancer to pen positive stories about former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy, and mild hysteria erupts in pockets of the PR industry.

A little-known PR firm in Birmingham, AL, allegedly pays a freelancer to pen positive stories about former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy, and mild hysteria erupts in pockets of the PR industry.

Yet another firm implicated in circumventing journalistic processes, casting a foul light on the underbelly of this misunderstood and underappreciated profession, say those outraged by the claim.

Meanwhile, the business journalistic equivalent of a rave in last week's Economist seemingly provoked only quiet reflection, though no doubt it was avidly read. "For business, PR is an increasingly vital marketing tool," the January 21 article read. "As PR profits from advertising's difficulties, it is taking up a host of new stratagems - and seeking to move up the corporate pecking order."

The centerpiece of the article is the results of Procter & Gamble's recent measurement exercise, which revealed the power of PR over any other marketing discipline in moving four out of six of its brands. News from P&G migrates well from marketing trade to mainstream media, in this case delivering solidly good news for the PR industry as a whole.

To add to the buzz, The Economist cites data from investment bank Veronis Shuler Stevenson forecasting growth in PR spending of almost 9% a year, "faster than the overall market for advertising and marketing."

What we have here, for the first time I can remember in a while, is a business story in a mainstream outlet about the industry, unalloyed by scandal, undiminished by the preponderance of advertising brands, and unapologetically touting PR's growth and relevance.

And while the article has been forwarded along gleefully, too much time is still taken up by hand wringing over isolated incidences of unethical practices. Not enough time is spent finding ways to leverage the positive momentum of an industry capable of capitalizing on both the roiling of the ad industry and the show of confidence from a major marketer like P&G.

Of course, publications like ours will continue to diligently cover the ethical lapses because PR pros must be held accountable. Ethical guidelines are necessary, and trade groups should relentlessly endorse and enforce them. But the profession does itself no favors by getting tied up in knots every time someone violates the principles of credible PR and media relationships. Media will always look for trends to carry a one-day story over multiple editions. Why give them ammunition when most pros are toeing the ethical line?

Examples of malfeasance make the blogosphere go 'round, of course. But during a time of perhaps unprecedented opportunity, PR leaders need to refine their image to the mainstream press. Because as goes P&G and The Economist, others will follow.

Ironically, the penultimate paragraph of the Economist piece claims that the PR industry is "never shy about accentuating the positive" and "might be expected to be trumpeting its rise." May it soon be so.

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