Here’s some of what Robert Peston said in his Charles Wheeler Lecture:
“I have never been in any doubt that PRs are the enemy – our mission as hacks is always to get around the PR, to sideline him or her.”
PR is “much more machine-like, controlled and – in its slightly chilling way – professional”.
PRs are “professional bullshitters [who] have lost the capacity to tell the difference between fact and fiction”.
Robert writes mostly about business and economics. His dealings with PR people, are, at a guess, most likely to relate to company news. There are codes that define the amount of information that can be disseminated about listed companies. Consequently, his dialogue with PRs, I would also guess, is likely to be high end, probably a bit stilted and opaque. There are more things that corporate and financial PRs (in my experience) can’t say than things they can say. Company results are a miserably scripted process. That’s for regulatory reasons. If I was a hack on the receiving end of this, I’d get a bit frustrated (and possibly in my frustration question the candour of the mouthpiece), but it’s just the way it is. Rules are rules. Breach them and suffer the consequences. This isn’t about hiding unpalatable truths (or at least it shouldn’t be) – it’s about operating in the context of prescribed disclosure obligations.
There are also other routes (without decrying the work that PR people put in to explain). Companies are more porous than they have ever been thanks to social media. I’d argue that no PR these days ‘manages’ a brand. At best, he or she ‘shepherds’ it.
The trouble is that his speech is being conflated to apply to the PR profession as a whole. Papers, websites and broadcasters are replete with all sorts of content, some of it earnest and important, some of it entertaining, some of it a hybrid of the two.
There’s plenty of shoddy procedure in the PR world – and there is plenty of rubbish circulated, as the many contributors to our “how not to” guide testify.
But that’s very different from what looks like a pretty broad generalisation about the PR industry as a whole. There are hundreds of agencies and thousands of practitioners who offer up ideas and tales of the unexpected (one precondition of some types of news) everyday that would otherwise go unheard.
In my experience, journalists are pretty brutally discerning. Assuming that the primary role of PR is to offer compelling ideas up for journalistic scrutiny that might otherwise go unnoticed, where’s the harm in that?