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
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
While journalists still breathe, it won’t stop the jokes about public
relations. But it may just take the sting out of them.