COMMENT: EDITORIAL; The reputation you deserve’

It is often the trivial insults which hurt the most. Hence, at the Sword of Excellence awards this week, Craig Brown’s ‘A-Z of PR double speak’ was a painfully hot topic of conversation. Most painful of all, was his comment that ‘the simple effectiveness of public relations can be measured by the esteem in which the profession itself is held’.

It is often the trivial insults which hurt the most. Hence, at the Sword

of Excellence awards this week, Craig Brown’s ‘A-Z of PR double speak’

was a painfully hot topic of conversation. Most painful of all, was his

comment that ‘the simple effectiveness of public relations can be

measured by the esteem in which the profession itself is held’.



Such jibes hurt partly because they cannot be demolished by rational

argument. They are jokes. Brown’s Saturday morning chuckle fest was in

the same vein as Matthew Parris’ TV harangue against PR - the kind of

jocular waffle that pads out the style sections.



So we shouldn’t get too uptight about it, should we? And, while we’re at

it, shouldn’t we also turn a blind eye to the Guardian’s description of

PR as ‘the latrine of parasitic misinformation’ this week? Or Peter

Hitchens’ recent remarks about ‘a cynical fraud with sinister

undertones’?



You would be hard pushed to find an industry which is so regularly, and

gleefully, vilified in the media. It is a perpetual irony that the PR

business, whose mission is the ‘management of reputation’ according to

the IPR definition, is apparently so appalling bad at managing its own.



Is the answer simply to rise above it? Or does all this criticism

actually damage the business? In other words, does reputation matter? It

seems a strange question to ask of PR people.



CBI director general Alec Daly this week chided the industry for its

lack of self promotion as a valuable management discipline. Meanwhile,

heads of major consultancies say it is often ‘unhelpful’ to use the term

PR because of its poor reputation and the assumption that it is a lowly

function of no concern to senior management.



PR is the Skoda of professions. In fact it’s worse than that because,

through effective PR, Skoda’s reputation eventually got better.



It is no coincidence that, despite the best efforts of outgoing PRCA

chairman Quentin Bell and his IPR counterparts, people in this business

are careering away from the term public relations as fast as their

excuses will carry them - to perception management, communication

management, reputation management, anything but the dreaded PR. Now what

was that about double speak?



Changing the name will not change attitudes. Public relations has no

need to be coy about its achievements, provided, as Bernard Ingham

reminds us this week, the profession can back up its claims with hard

evaluation.



While journalists still breathe, it won’t stop the jokes about public

relations. But it may just take the sting out of them.



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