EDITORIAL: Blair incident underscores the need to bridge the gap between journalists and PR people

No editor has followed The New York Times-Jayson Blair saga without shuddering. A publication is nothing without credibility, and it takes only one rogue reporter to destroy it. It is hard enough to confess ordinary mistakes (believe me), but for the Times to admit that it enabled a long spell of dubious reporting is truly scary. And it could happen anywhere, whether we like to admit it or not.

No editor has followed The New York Times-Jayson Blair saga without shuddering. A publication is nothing without credibility, and it takes only one rogue reporter to destroy it. It is hard enough to confess ordinary mistakes (believe me), but for the Times to admit that it enabled a long spell of dubious reporting is truly scary. And it could happen anywhere, whether we like to admit it or not.

A PR person with Blair's track record would never get away with this degree of dishonesty for so long. PR pros are frequently depicted as, if not exactly liars, then certainly free interpreters of the truth. But, in fact, much of the media relations pro's job is to communicate the frank, often bland details of an organization. Reporters determined to prove a certain viewpoint will typically regard a company's response as spin, even if it isn't. But a communicator with a poor track record for honesty, even if that honesty is limited by regulations or commercial sensitivities, will ultimately fail in his or her job. How unfortunate, in view of the Blair saga, that journalists are typically viewed as guardians of the truth, while communicators are seen as guardians of corporate reputation. To the layperson, and the reporter, reputation isn't necessarily tied to terms like "good corporate citizenship" or "credibility," but to terms like "image" and "presentation." There is no easy way around this fundamentally different perspective, other than to engage in media relationships that meet the standards of reputation that one's company also claims to embrace. Conference to show integration at its best Our June 18 conference, Marketing and the Power of PR, presented in association with Biz360, features panels of marketing and PR teams from companies like Unilever, Whirlpool, and Kodak. Discussions will broadly focus on what makes an integrated campaign work, and how PR asserts itself in the marketing mix. Attendees will be able to quiz brand guardians on what they consider PR's significance and contributions, and how it is measured next to other disciplines. It is important to me that PRWeek create this forum to bring together these separate yet interdependent functions together. PR pros don't always have platforms to spotlight their contributions, nor do they always focus on the best ways to communicate value to CMOs and brand managers. Dome Communications' Doug Dome spoke on a marketing panel at the American Dairy Products Institute's recent annual meeting. He addressed PR's value in the b-to-b environment, as the attendees were primarily commodity groups that don't always grasp the value of consumer-based PR. Dome also touched on PR's role when companies make health claims. Last week, Harris Diamond of Weber Shandwick addressed the Association of National Advertisers, talking about the increasingly politicized consumer, and offered tools for companies to overcome negative actions those attitudes may engender. More industry people need to engage the interest of business and marketing leaders. We have a lineup of great brands - ones that embrace PR - to talk about their organizations, but PR pros must take the lead to improve understanding of PR in the marketing mix. For more information on the conference or to register, click here. Or call (646) 638-6021.

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