The Apparent Evils of PR

Friend and PR guru Tom Murphy bemoans the ongoing villification of the PR industry. He cites a feisty piece from the Daily Telegraph, which reads in part:

More than ever, PR is seen as part of the marketing mix. Creating buzz around a product or a personality can often generate greater attention than traditional display advertising – and at lower cost. Today’s cynical consumers can sometimes be reached more effectively through intelligent PR campaigns than simple paid-for communications. Even measuring their impact and value can be easier than with straightforward adverts.

Tom responds with a lengthy polemic, but wraps up with a number of fine points:

1) Consumers are more sophisticated today than at any time in the past

2) The Editors of a magazine are responsible for the published content of their magazines. That is their value. Should they tarnish that value by allowing PR people to manipulate them then they no longer deserve the patronage of their readers.

3) Spin doctors and A-list celebrity PRs inhabit a different world to the hundreds of thousands of practitioners who work hard to help clients to communicate better.

4) The sooner these “PR” people are exposed the better for everyone involved.

5) PR has increased in popularlity because organizations have realised the importance of good communication.

I’m not sure the general populace appreciates a related point: the majority of news stories start as a press release. This is true for 80% or 90% of the business and arts and leisure sections of the newspaper. The paper’s front section works similarly–most news stories start with some media relations professional calling, faxing or emailing a journalist or editor.

Maybe this wasn’t the case 25 or 50 years ago. If so, what’s changed? I’m not certain, but I’ll speculate that it’s because newspaper readership is declining, so there’s less money and fewer journalists. At the same time, PR has risen as an industry, and editors and journalists are willingly influenced by them.

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