|Photo credit: The Economist,
PowerPoint, Screen Capture.
That’s a summary of my reaction to The Economist’s article in the special Christmas section entitled: Rise of the image men. It’s a short history of PR. It’s a review of current trends. It’s a high-brow hack job, from an otherwise reputable publication, that continues to succeed in an era where it’s brethren weekly news analysis magazines Stateside, have had less luck.
A handful of PR influencers have even begun to distance themselves from the term “public relations” in favor of associating with social media because it’s easier to get into the executive suite. To paraphrase the revolutionist, Ben Franklin, surely we’ll all hang separately if we don’t hang together.
The Times has however, from my perspective, willingly “cast PR professionals as flip-flopping, candy chewing flacks that “whisper in the ears” of the elite or influential amid a changing media landscape.” It’s recognition, albeit begrudging, but recognition. It underscores my assertion that the PR industry is in need of some of its own counsel.
The industry needs a simplified and more articulate definition of our profession.
Ethics in PR. The Economist says Ivy Lee, an oft cited founding father of PR preferred relativism over truth, or in the words of the publication, “Verisimilitude mattered more than veracity.” On their own pages, The Economist is the decider, but the alliteration of Latin root words is not lost on names like Jayson Blair. If The Economist will peer back as far as the turn of the century for muck to rake, it’s fair enough of me to cite circa 2003. Whichever side your profession falls on, without integrity, you have nothing.The business case for PR. “Lee noted how the emerging mass media were acting as the conduit for the anti-capitalist message of Progressivism, the liberalising reform movement that peaked in America in the early 20th century,” reads the article. “He realised not only that it was essential for businesses to counter this message, but that the same conduit could be used to spread pro-business sentiment.” If I didn’t read The Economist every week, the idea that the publication is in fact itself pro-business may have been lost. In fact, its very brand is the study of capitalism. The perennial, if not ethereal, big business is an easy target of opportunity. Universally applying a coal mine standard to every corporation is about as rational of an argument as labeling every journalist by the actions of the aforementioned Blair. Businesses can and should advocate for their causes. The alternative – silently waiting for discovery – has a smaller probability of being heard than the castaway’s message in a bottle. Business innovation solves real problems. We’ve built a country on this idea.
Dynamics of the industry. “Lee observed that the rise of national newspaper chains and syndicated journalism in America since the 1880s, combined with the extension of the franchise, had profoundly changed society.” Indeed and it’s happening again through social media.
Advertising vs. PR. Which is better advertising or PR? “They have also fought for influence within big corporations against their great rivals in the marketing and advertising departments.” The Economist, like many, is chasing the wrong question. It’s not about which discipline is better – each has merits – it’s about how they work together.
Who owns social media? “Here’s their [the image man] spiel: the mainstream media—the traditional gatekeepers of news and the bane of the PR man’s life—are becoming less important. So is the worth of the advertising slots they sell, and therefore so are the sort of paid-for, hard-sell campaigns that the ad men and marketers deal in. Meanwhile social networking, with its cacophony of bloggers, Facebookers and tweeters, is becoming more influential. It is also confusing and hard to control. The public is becoming deafened and confused by a barrage of contradictory messages.” The Economist gets this completely wrong. Surely that’s a spiel, but it’s not coming from the PR industry. PR’s case is about trust. It’s about working with editorial contacts. It’s a rejection of commercialization. It’s about compelling content and less hype.
If there’s a positive perspective on this article, it’s my sincere hope that it will result in some industry soul searching. That a common enemy – misperception – will unite the industry and sound a call to action to forgo egos and address every notion in this article line by line. I hope to see many, many blogs on this article.
And more importantly that they lead to action. Intrigue. Anger. Indifference. Reflection. Action.
PRSAY: Merely ‘Image Men’? Hardly
A PR Guy’s Musings: Digital PR in The Economist
Firm Voice: A Reply to The Economist (Council of PR Firms)
Drew B’s Take on PR: The future of PR, according to The Economist (it’s not pretty)
In Focus: In Focus: The Economist burns the entire PR industry. Hmmm…
O’Dwyer: Economist Reveals Ignorance of PR
PRNewser: ‘Economist’ Doesn’t Paint a Pretty Picture of PR
the ever curious PR guy: The Economist magazine misrepresents PR folks, and the magazine is right
Fast Company: The Rise of B2B PR (FC blogger @wendymarx)
Flack’s Revenge: Battling PR’s Image Problem
Spin Sucks: The (Wrong) Image of the PR Industry
Matter Communications: I’d find it hard to believe that all journalists feel this way…
Previous stories by the publication on PR:
The Economist: Do we have a story for you!
The Economist: Public relations in the recession
According to this Tweet, by @Wadds, while The Economist bashes PR, they also buy PR services. Given The Economist’s comment “as long as Satan pays his fees” does this mean that The Economist is calling itself “Satan?” @Wadds posted this blog post on the article. @mpwatson also appears to be employed by @Wadds and made his own post to Twitter.
Update 2 (12/21/10):
@Wadds confirms he provides PR services to The Economist.