Quite a bit of vitriol being cast in the direction of PR people in the last few weeks.  First there was Robert Peston’s speech.  Then there was Nick Cohen’s piece.  Then there was Roy Greenslade’s.

We’ve been avid chroniclers here of the worst of PR practice.  Our How Not To Guide to PR, our buzzword removal tool and our campaign to bring an end to the dreaded ‘sell-in’ call (which seems to have made some difference judging by our postbag) are three examples.

All that said, I’d like to offer a couple of thoughts about why I think we PR people really aren’t that bad:

  1. Journalists are not obliged to look at what they’re sent by PRs.
  2. Without PRs, journalists might not get wind some of the most interesting things happening in the UK / globally each day.  Not all businesses are naturally adept at telling people what they’re up to.  The number of great stories I have stumbled upon by accident over the last 20 years staggers me.
  3. Sure, PRs are filters, but it’s a strange leap of logic to think that they’re always trying to obscure something else.  It might be worth considering that PRs can be pretty useful goldpanners for time-poor, always-on-deadline hacks.
  4. PRs, at their best, are pretty good at summarizing / abbreviating / illuminating something that might otherwise go unnoticed despite its importance.
  5. The suggestion that PRs lie is a pretty brutal and blanket condemnation.  Lying is a career-limiting move in any field, but far more so in PR when you think about it. The truth always outs in this age of increasingly porous businesses.
  6. PRs and journalists can have a productive, rational and symbiotic relationship.  Do journalists really have time to comb through reams of jargon-enriched waffle in search of an interesting phrase or fact?
  7. PRs don’t write papers / news sites.  Journalists do.  We’re just offering up stuff that we think is interesting and eye-catching.
  8. Consumption habits are changing and readers turn to papers and news sites for news – and equally for entertainment. Often it’s the entertainment that is the stuff that draws the readers in.  Often it’s the PRs that are the source of the entertaining content.  Here, for instance, are the most shared stories on one news site last week:

This, of course, isn’t news, but it perhaps also demonstrates that quite a lot of ‘softer’ PR provides serves a useful commercial purpose for news providers.

I’m not claiming any functional or moral equivalent between PR and journalism.  Our functions are entirely different – and yes, PR is about raising awareness of an organisation for a strategic or tactical purpose.  My issue is with the underpinning assumption that all PR is about disguising the truth.  For the most part, in my experience, it’s about encouraging examination, not interfering with it.  And after all, if a decent softer PR story sits adjacent to a hard news piece on a website, it’s attracting a bigger potential readership to more important issues of the day.  How’s that for a bit of PR spin?

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