NEWS: Responsible PR is enemy of sleaze, but it must tend to its own image

Last week I could be seen writing furiously on the train on my way to my second breakfast talk to the Public Relations Consultants Association in Victoria. They wanted me to stimulate them before the sparrows coughed on ‘The challenge to PR in the age of sleaze’. Long before I had reached their HQ, I had worked myself up into the sort of controlled detonation which I used to reserve for the Lobby.

Last week I could be seen writing furiously on the train on my way to my

second breakfast talk to the Public Relations Consultants Association in

Victoria. They wanted me to stimulate them before the sparrows coughed

on ‘The challenge to PR in the age of sleaze’. Long before I had reached

their HQ, I had worked myself up into the sort of controlled detonation

which I used to reserve for the Lobby.



I didn’t argue over whether we lived in the age of ‘sleaze’. Whatever I

may think, the nation’s sleaze police - the media - believe we are

wallowing in it. They should know. After all, they are widely accused

of anything from trivialisation, distortion, invention, sensationalism,

intrusions of privacy, entrapment, buying up witnesses and an abuse of

power. If it is necessary to set a thief to catch a thief, they are

eminently well qualified for sleaze-busting.



There is a problem in the sense that the media inhabit an Alice in

Wonderland world in which ‘sleaze’ is anything that they pronounce it to

be. But at least you know where you are: sleazy unless you can prove

yourself whiter than white. What is more, you don’t have to be charged

with any offence to be ‘sleazy’. Ask Ian Greer whose lobbying business

has been destroyed by the cod-faxing Guardian.



I then argued that the challenge facing the PR industry was all the

greater because of its own image. It still had a muck ’n magic aura,

however exquisite its social graces, because it could not scientifically

measure the impact of its work. Worse still, it was often accused of the

very failings of our sleaze police.



The irony of its neglect of its own image was compounded by its recent

failure publicly to argue the case for part of its business -

professional lobbying. It had also failed to educate the average

businessman on PR’s potential. They mostly still regard PR as an

optional extra - something you hire when you get yourself into trouble

rather than to keep you out of it.



But this age of sleaze, I argued, also presented the PR industry with a

wonderful opportunity. After all, PR is fundamentally about

establishing, maintaining and enhancing reputations. No reputation worth

having could be built on serious deficiencies in a product, service or

individual. Nor could one be maintained, still less enhanced, on the

basis of facile, short-term PR. Reputations have to be tilled

continuously.



Responsible PR is thus the enemy of sleaze. Provided we work at it, it

should not be difficult for PR rapidly to acquire a more reliable,

accurate and wholesome reputation than the sleaze police. Before we know

where we are, the media might even feel the need for our services as

distinct from manifestly requiring them.



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