Does our reputation make us prunes?

One of the minor perks of working in our industry is that you can waste very valuable time trawling esoteric websites in the middle of a working day and convince yourself it is all part of the job as you keep your finger on the zeitgeist.

One of the minor perks of working in our industry is that you can waste very valuable time trawling esoteric websites in the middle of a working day and convince yourself it is all part of the job as you keep your finger on the zeitgeist.

Football365, the Big Ten Blog on ESPN, and my younger daughter's wildly entertaining and dramatic Twitter feed are the less-than-crucial sources of information that I visit most days.

I will also admit that I find Gawker.com compelling if also a little irritating. It has been even more annoying than usual in recent weeks as it has published a series of blogs succinctly and unambiguously themed, “PR Dummies.”

My cultural wanderings also take me frequently to BBC America, which recently ran a hilarious comedy series called “Twenty Twelve” about the incompetent (fictitious) team preparing for the London Olympics. Inevitably, the PR manager on the team was confused, useless, and full of self importance.

My wife, who is a chief nurse and with that has brought a polite skepticism during 26 years of marriage about the means by which I earn a living, takes great delight in pointing out that whenever a PR person appears on TV or in a movie they are inevitably buffoons, evil, or ineffective. Sometimes it is all three.

That got me thinking again about why I and many others in our industry spend our days providing sage counsel to major corporations and influential organizations about how to manage and protect their reputations. However, we seem to have had little effect on the reputation of own profession.

Yet it is crucial that we do so. We depend so highly on the level of the talent that we attract to our PR departments and agencies. Yet, and I have no research to back this up, I really do get a strong feeling that sometimes the very best of the young talent does not seriously consider PR as our reputation diminishes us in favor of medicine, law, finance, and even advertising.

Therefore, the obvious question is to ask all of us reputation counselors what advice would we give ourselves about lifting the reputation of public relations?  And would we have the discipline to follow our own advice about building a stronger, more relevant public narrative for our work, people, and successes?

Of course, when a reputation is truly damaged beyond repair, the rebuilding often begins with the scrapping of the original name and starting afresh with a new one. One recalls the wretched prune becoming the much more delicious dried plum.

It could be that it is finally time to retire the public relations label once and for all.

Mike Hatcliffe is MD of the US corporate practice at Ogilvy Public Relations.

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