For many people, including some senior journalists unfortunately, PROs
are still Bolly-swigging, fad-obsessed Edinas from Absolutely Fabulous -
or they have taken on the darker mantle of spin doctors Charles
Prentiss, and his Machiavellian sidekick Martin McCabe, from the BBC2
show Absolute Power.
PR has long been an easy target for comedy writers. But before we fly
into another fit of righteous indignation, maybe we should at least be
thankful that the joke has become more sophisticated.
The behind-the-scenes nature of the PR industry inevitably feeds
suspicions of a lack of substance, but the fact is the vast majority of
FTSE 500 companies now include reputation management and risk management
as key parts of their business strategies. Reputation, or corporate
brand, is established as an invisible asset on the balance sheet.
As well as business leaders, PR is taken extremely seriously by a new
generation of high achievers.
One can only hazard a guess at how many people were employed in PR back
in 1984, probably only a few thousand; account execs tended to come via
the secretarial route, and most of the management were ex-journalists.
Today up to 20,000 people earn their living in this business; there are
over 20 universities offering degrees in PR, and the vast majority of
new entrants are graduates.
Essentially an activity of persuasion - or 'endorsement' - PR remains
the quintessential people business. As such, many leading practitioners
will inevitably be perceived as pushy, even manipulative. Some will even
become pariahs, or the basis of new comedy characters, but this is
testament to the fact that they will wield huge power and influence.
Most importantly for us, the PR business - and its people - will
continue to be anything but dull.