COMMENT: EDITORIAL; PR shouldn’t be a shameful term

It would be easy to dismiss Burson-Marsteller’s decision to reinvent itself as a ‘perception mangament consultancy’ as a classic case of public relationspuff, a cynical attempt to gain credibility by distancing itself from the very thing on which it was built - the practice of public relations.

It would be easy to dismiss Burson-Marsteller’s decision to reinvent

itself as a ‘perception mangament consultancy’ as a classic case of

public relationspuff, a cynical attempt to gain credibility by

distancing itself from the very thing on which it was built - the

practice of public relations.



It is, says the agency, just part of a major re-structuring styled along

management consultancy lines and reflects the fact that its focus is

increasingly on business rather than communications objectives.



Few would disagree that public relationshas an image problem. Often it

is defined in its very narrowest sense, to mean the practice of media

relations, or worse, as some sort of black art in which base metal is

miraculously turned into fools gold by the judicious application of half

truths and lies.



Certainly Burson-Marsteller has a point when it says public relations no

longer accurately describes the range of its activities and that

management perception is arguably a better description. But is there not

a very real danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water? That,

in the battle for a place in what UK chief executive Alison Canning

calls the ‘superleague’ of business consultancies, B-M is ditching the

very thing that gives it an edge over its rivals from the advertising

and management consultancy sectors - its PR heritage?



Just two months ago PR Week reported that one of the biggest accountancy

firms KPMG was looking for a PR agency to boost the profile of its

management consultancy arm. Management consultants, admitted the firm,

are not very good at explaining what they do.



More recently we reported that advertising agency McCann Erickson was

looking to buy a PR agency. Many others have already done so.



Everyone, it seems, is learning to value PR except perhaps the PR

agencies themselves and, according to B-M’s research, clients.



If it is true that the very mention of the term is enough to make the

company chairman’s eyes glaze over, then isn’t it up to PR agencies or

more particularly, the company’s own corporate affairs director to

explain why PR is important. And if they haven’t twigged that there

might be something in this PR thing, what hope is there that they are

going to sit up and take notice of a practice as ill-defined - and

sinister sounding - as ‘perception management’



Rather than cutting and running, shouldn’t PR firms be explaining what

they do more effectively rather than trying to think up new labels for

it. How can they hope to ‘manage perception’s for others if they cannot

do it for themselves?



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