Industry bible PR Week ran a story last week which stated that the majority of PR professionals don’t view the industry they work in as fundamentally honest. This shocked me. It’s one thing for people outside the industry to think that we’re all a bunch of spin doctors (and I’m not referring to the cult 1990s American alt rock band), but for less than four out of ten PR pros to believe that the industry is honest is a somewhat damning statistic.
Spurred by my own outrage, I thought I’d see what the consultants I know and work with thought of the research. And the general feedback not only backed up the article in PR Week but, furthermore, raised the question as to whether PROs are actually comfortable with what they do at work, day in day out. Contrary to popular opinion, PR professionals aren’t like Max Clifford and do actually have a conscience (at least, the ones I work with do), but they seem to be resigned to the fact that their chosen career necessitates untruths.
Helena* said: “Truth be told I don’t like to think about this too much. I’m fundamentally a very honest person, and so occasionally what we do to get coverage doesn’t always sit easily with me. Having said that I do think we have a job to do in educating people as to the merits of a particular product so that they can make their own minds up.” And therein lies the predicament – the job involves influencing people, and this may mean if not lying, then at least manipulating the truth.
“I do agree that there is an element of lying within the PR industry, whether it be used to entice consumers to believe in your product, to bump up a clients’ budget by exaggerating the amount of time it will take to do ‘just in case’, cleverly presenting campaign results to maximise the effect or simply to cover the truth on behalf of a client who is under media scrutiny”, said Jane*. “But it’s not so much about lying, more about cleverly manipulating the truth so as to achieve the best results!”
Lucy* adds: “I did a PR degree, where they really pushed the message that PR is about facilitating communications rather than any kind of spin…but of course you’re going to have to withhold information sometimes. Maybe it’s not ethical, but it is inevitable. In a conversation about ethics, a lecturer once told me that if you’re not comfortable with something your company asks you to do you should refuse, and leave if necessary. But that just isn’t practical.” So are we all just selling our souls to the devil to earn a living?
Jane* summed things up by saying that: “Whatever the profession (lawyers, accountants, estate agents), everyone is in it for themselves at the end of the day. If a small white lie, or even the retention of specific information, can help them to achieve their goal then I don’t reckon they hold back. I don’t truly believe that the level of lying in PR outweighs that of any other industry.”
What do you think? Are we all a bunch of liars in the PR industry? Do you resent having to manipulate the truth in your job, or do you just not think about it?
*names have been changed to protect the innocent!
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