It happened today. Someone I have known closely over 20 years, and who is VERY familiar with what I do for a living and what public relations is, actually said the evil words: “They just did it as a PR move,” when referring to a cosmetic action made by his employer to avoid making a substantial operational move that was badly needed.
That he said it was bad enough. That he said it to ME is worse. That he said it automatically, without thought, is horrible. When I called him on it, he dug himself deeper by saying, “you know what I meant.” Yes, I did know what he meant. I knew EXACTLY what he meant. And I seethed for quite a while afterward. I stewed over how to communicate just how much that hurt, coming as it did from one person I would trust completely.
And as upsetting as it is that this slur came so automatically to him, without thought, we in the PR profession bear much of the responsibility for this. We don’t proactively manage the reputation of our profession. We don’t communicate clearly what we do, talking about marketing instead of PR. We don’t support our value with actual concrete figures. And we don’t publicly condemn those who practice unethical and unprofessional behaviors.
Why? Because we don’t take protecting the integrity of our profession seriously. Because we don’t make sure people understand the hidden side of PR: the hard work that goes into counseling the executives, especially when they are about to make a move that will blow back on them, to crafting the messages to communicate clearly, without confusion, to the audience, the scramble to find the information needed for that last minute media call, the struggle to identify what is newsworthy about a client on a slow news day. We don’t speak up when journalists, politicians and others use terms like “PR stunt” and “PR ploy” as synonyms for “lies” and “cover-ups.” Until we better communicate what we do, we as a profession will remain the default euphemism for style over substance.