'NYT' piece rattles industry

Over the July 4th weekend, The New York Times took a look inside the PR industry with the piece "Spinning the Web: PR in Silicon Valley."

Over the July 4th weekend, The New York Times took a look inside the PR industry with the piece "Spinning the Web: PR in Silicon Valley."

While the Times article focused on a narrow aspect of PR—mainly on publicist Brooke Hammerling and her relationship-driven tactics in Silicon Valley—some PR professionals believed it trivialized PR as an industry, and it spawned a firestorm of tweets, blog postings, and other opinions.

"The piece took a binary view. It was either this or that, either the tech bloggers or influencers or mainstream media," said Todd Defren, principal at Shift Communications, who commented about the article on his blog. "Most PR programs are much more holistic than that."

But the article also spoke to the continuing image problem that the industry faces, such as words like “spin” persisting as a description of what PR professionals do.

"I think that marketing has an image problem and PR is part of that,” said Steve Boehler, founder of Mercer Island Group. “Because marketers are always trying to influence people, there will some amount of pushback on being influenced.”

"On the one side, you have Wag the Dog, where we're the spin masters in the spin room, and we're manipulating news," explained Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman. "And on the other side, you have this stereotype, which is trivializing us. I don't accept either extreme."

Edelman suggested ways to get beyond the stereotypes on his 6 A.M. blog.

"We've got to tell stories about how we are helping clients," Edelman told PRWeek, "and try to sell that instead of allowing us to be defined by stereotypes."

"People will always misinterpret and underestimate what PR is all about," added Brian Solis, blogger at PR 2.0 and principal at Future Works. "We are going through a branding crisis, and we don't have a crisis communications team doing anything about it."

Solis, who also wrote about the issue on his blog, suggested that the industry "open our eyes and ears to the reality of peer-to-peer influence." If PR professionals and the companies they represent can become more ingrained in niche communities, he noted, they can gain credibility in the marketplace, and perhaps build up a better reputation.

Boehler suggested there is still more work to be done to instill transparency into the field.

"Just as it's critical in our financial services industry for them to be more transparent, so we can trust Wall Street, it's important for our marketers to behave with some amount of transparency, so we can trust the messages that we're receiving, and we can trust the interactions we have with them,” he said.

The Times piece also suggested that traditional media outreach has been replaced by relationships and social media. Yet, Andy Getsey, founder of Atomic PR, said internal research and measurement often proves that traditional media outreach is still relevant and influential for reaching key audiences.

"Relationships are important,” he said. “We think broadcast and print media are still important because we have data that proves it still drives traffic."

"We shouldn't abandon the traditional forms of communication; we should be adding new forms of communication," added Michael Cherenson, chair and CEO of PRSA. "What you call it may change, but the basic exchange of information, to tell a story, is timeless and will go on forever."

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