OPINION: An influential industry, yes, but ethical?

Is PR really the discipline which is now starting to change the world as so memorably claimed last week?

And, if the claim by one of the industry’s most respected practitioners (Robert Phillips' profile, 18 May) is to be taken seriously, what sort of changes is PR delivering, and are they for the better or the worse?

Few would dispute the ability of accomplished PROs to shift perceptions,  build brand and individual profiles, and to capitalise on mass global media to deliver strategic messages. At their peak, skilled agencies and in-house teams can seize parts of the media agenda and create the optimum environment for the exposure or protection of clients.

Undoubtedly the power to manipulate the levers of the media control are growing. In a burgeoning and diverse multi-channel media world offering limitless opportunities to deliver on and offline messages on a 24/7 global basis, the opportunities for PR are boundless. Access to specific and targeted audiences has never been greater and nor has the need for media management. Give them the content and they’ll give you the space.

And yet should the industry really be proud of the triumphs laid at its door? There is an argument that the political process in the UK has been subverted by PR to such an extent that voters no longer wish to take part in elections. Such has been the recent dependence on the message, runs the argument, that political debate and ideals have disappeared. Trust in politicians, who are perceived to have practised it, has all but gone. They are all as bad as each other we say, eschewing our right to vote, and meanwhile we sleepwalk away from democracy towards something worse.

In the world of celebrity and entertainment, PR creates and sustains modern British icons such as Jordan, Jade, Shilpa Shetty et al. Is this a cause for celebration or reflection?

Healthcare and pharmaceutical agencies promote the virtues of drugs, which are later found to have adverse side effects. In the FMCG sphere,  PR led the way with ad agencies in advocating the delights of endless crisp and chocolate consumption to youthful audiences. The reverse shift through the gears in the wake of Jamie Oliver and scandal of the obese couch potato generation caused barely a blush among PROs. We simply refocused campaigns and moved on to the next set of objectives.

Perhaps truly to change the world a body needs leadership and conscience. The power of the PRO is to influence but not to lead. And conscience? Now that’s a wider subject indeed.

Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and was formerly a senior newspaper executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun.

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