Professionals working within PR are well aware of the deep complexity of their field, and recognize the many specialties and separate disciplines within the very wide umbrella term PR. In <a forthcoming piece>, I hope to expound on the immense value (both Social and Economic) that PR holds for both its Clientele and the various public markets they wish to meaningfully connect with. First though, I need to examine what I’ve perceived to be a very alarming veer onto a rather dangerous road for anyone in PR to be trying to drive on at present.
It started with a recent article by Naomi Klein, who although I don’t agree with philosophically, I had to concur was pointing out an obvious risk to credible PR. She postulates, that a recent putsch of Israeli films (about Tel-Aviv in particular) in the Toronto Film Fest, were being seen as a PR campaign for not only Tel-Aviv tourism, but as whitewashing of of the latest negative world reactions to hostilities against Palestinians.
Without getting into that political quagmire, it is clear that PR is a common concept that has been associated with trying to change public perceptions of negative events. For a very longtime now, there are countless other mentions of PR in the daily news and Media, where PR is associated with damage control, or ‘spinning” corporate interests. This well known generality is just the tip of longstanding (melting?) iceberg however.
Take the recent case of Michael Bryant’s run-in with a cyclist…
While Mr. Bryant spent the night in jail, the initial news around this story was about his well publicized dispute with his girlfriend, many reactions about how the police
Whether these were simply the result of very good investigative journalism and quick TV reporting, is now irrelevant, because what was also publicized was that Mr. Bryant had engaged the services of a PR firm called Navigator.
This is not truly surprising to anyone, especially since he certainly has the resources to get this sort of help, but it obviously and instantly polarizes the Public. Suddenly the side stories about drunkenness, other altercations that night, and a criminally checkered past seem like news-plants, rather than simply reading as facts.
Mr. Bryant is associated with the type of people who can also afford the very best lawyers, and thus can buy the very best judicial outcomes possible, while flexing public opinion along the way. In short this plays into all the public fears about an unfairly stacked system, and unfortunately the PR industry (due to some shameless self-promotion by Navigator) was now dragged down into this bottomless mess as well.
For no matter what the outcome of this matter is, the Public will only remember that a powerful man was either charged or acquitted, and that he used PR to achieve the best possible results in what is now seen as a heinous crime by most average people…Regardless of the outcome…Because (for better or worse) freely distributed images will always speak louder than professionally prepared words.
Once statements like the following are out on the Internet, there is no measure of PR that can ever take them back…
Perhaps however, a truly good PR firm could foster alternate views of the issues and arrange followup television interviews with these witnesses to discuss a “bigger picture” on the war between Cyclists and Motorists, or perhaps make them minor celebrities in a Populist movement towards Citizen based justice, or even just a segment about the absurd/unbelievable things that roadwork crews see and hear about on the streets.
Maybe I just haven’t looked hard enough, but I’ve yet to see a PR firm create a truly engaging and viral meme for public consumption, and it is likely that in the future, such creativity will likely be sourced from the entrenched and obviously commercial interests of Ad Agencies instead. Perhaps, Advertising will be the industry that consumes all Marketing budgets ultimately, and the Consumer will just tune everything out that isn’t packaged as Entertainment, and we can just forget about any real progress as a Society, or Civilization. Clearly, I digress. Sorry
At the current rate, it seems like the most promising aspects of PR are indeed at risk of being assimilated into other fields though, if the Public continues to be taught not to trust PR work.
As a result of the Bryant affair, many PR experts (anonymously voiced to the Media) that they are critical of the way Navigator inserted themselves so conspicuously in the case, handing out press releases and generally letting it be known that they were now in charge of Mr. Bryant’s communications. Quite obviously, most PR executives strive for invisibility at a time of crisis, they said.
“People are always suspicious they’re being played or manipulated, so it’s probably not a good idea to confirm it for them,” said one senior PR expert.
Daniel Tisch, president of Argyle Communications, was quoted saying that Navigator’s conspicuousness helped fuel a predictable controversy, one that reinforced a narrative of haves and have-nots – the rich former attorney-general with high-priced PR juxtaposed with a poor, dead victim with no voice at all.
“You always want good PR, but you never want your PR to become the issue,”
– Daniel Tisch, Argyle Communication
When a well read and respected newspapers like the Globe clearly spells out the procedural details of the entire process for damage control used in these cases, it further cements public perceptions about PR, and entrenches a belief that PR firms will always prefer to act behind the scenes, because visibility would somehow blow their cover, and ruin their desired results.
In all but the most heinous cases of personal damage control for wealthy individuals, such guiding principals for invisible professionalism, where the PR never openly steps into the limelight would conceivably be a disastrous precedent to base general PR methods upon in the future. Because not only are markets increasingly savvy about 3rd party associations, and representations, but because the future of excellent PR should in fact be founded upon the complete and polar opposite of covert back-room shenanigans and machinations. As many pundits have stated in their views of the (so called) PR 2.0 revolution, we need to put the “Public” back into Public Relations!