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PRs compared to Mao, Pol Pot and Stalin

26 January 2013 One Comment
Pol Pot portrait

PRs as compared to Pol Pot?

There is a new study out that shows that PR professionals feel that serving the public interest is as important as their duty to their employers and clients.

A Baylor University study of 30 senior public relations professionals showed the individuals viewed themselves as an “independent voice” in the organization and not “mired by its perspective or politics.”

Study participants said they often were in the “kill the messenger” predicament, making it tricky to give criticism to people who outranked them and to persuade those people to agree with them.

Most of us in the profession would probably agree with this view. Professional communicators are often called upon to advocate for the target audiences they seek to build relationships with. But outside the profession, are we seen as champions for the greater good?  Perhaps not.

“Amazingly, rather than pumping out relentless positive messages and attempts to get their employers’ names mentioned in press reports for free – while simultaneously attempting to suppress, bury or spin away any bad news regarding their paymasters – it turned out that your typical PR type is in fact a selfless crusader for truth and justice,” wrote Lewis Page, a reporter for The Register, about the study.

The reader comments on Page’s story are more telling:

“Second hand car sales men and women are “swell people”, according to second hand car sales men and women. Ambulance chasing personal injury lawyers “not so bad once you get to know them”, believe ambulance chasing personal injury lawyers. Politicians “only interested in doing the right thing”, reports politician,” wrote one commenter.

Another wrote, “In other news, the ghosts of Mao, Pol Pot and Stalin have been heard saying “we always had the long term best interests of our people as our highest priority.”

It would appear that those of us in the PR profession have considerable work ahead to build a reputation of credibility and trustworthiness, and it’s doubtful that research like the Baylor University study actually helps in this mission.

Instead, let’s agree to a plan of action for 2013 in which each professional communicator will pledge to fight negative stereotypes of our profession wherever they arise.  Respond to negative comments online, don’t ‘let it go’ when you hear negative remarks, write a blog post or two about your own experiences of best ethical practices.

Together we can paint a more accurate picture of the PR profession, one brushstroke at a time.

The Baylor University study, published in Journal of Mass Media Ethics: Exploring Questions of Media Morality, was co-authored by Minette Drumwright, Ph.D., an associate professor of advertising at the University of Texas at Austin.

The article was originally posted on the Thornley Fallis blog.

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