Long time readers of Flack's Revenge know that I am a defender of the field and a little prickly when it comes to its image and treatment. You may remember a post I wrote a few years ago: PR 2009: The Color of the Brand. It showed the words and phrases that surround PR in news articles, via a word cloud. Here is an excerpt from that post:
If you are involved with PR, then you must be dealing with some kind of problem, right? Or do you have a crisis? Are you caught up in a PR meltdown or an issue? These are the modifiers often used in conjunction with the phrase "public relations." Much less frequently do you hear words like boon, bonanza, dividend or benefit.
When people think of PR, they most associate negative things like spin and problems. I understand that in many if not most cases, the words relate to the situation at hand, not the profession or practice; still, there is a certain guilt by association that negatively colors PR as a result.
I don't think much has changed since then. By way of example, I saw an article in the NY Times yesterday: Syria's Assads turned to the West and Glossy P.R. The article discusses how the royal Assad family of Syria used PR to burnish its image. Here is an excerpt:
With the help of high-priced public relations advisers who had worked in the Clinton, Bush and Thatcher administrations, the president and his family have sought over the past five years to portray themselves in the Western media as accessible, progressive and even glamorous. Magazines and online outlets have published complimentary features about the family, often focusing on fashion and celebrity.
Are the Assads, who are behind murderous campaigns against their own people, entitled to PR representation? It is an interesting question, and one I am not tackling now, although I did write about ethical dilemmas for the PR field previously.
Hwoever I do want to point out that here the reporters repeated tired cliches and stereotypes about PR, and cut some slack for a compliant media in the process
How did the article editorialize (and irritate)? Let me count the ways:
- The words in the title "Glossy PR" - what does this even mean? A little too close to "slick" for my taste
- With the help of high-priced public relations advisers - what does the cost of services have to do with the story? The amount of $5K per month is mentioned later; most in the field would not consider this to be "high-priced"
- This web of politics and public relations ensnared Barbara Walters recently. - "ensnared" makes her sound rather helpless, while PR is mostly to blame for her poor choices.
- [A PR agency] did not set up interviews for Mrs. Assad directly, but advised her on how to set up a communications office in Damascus to help shape her image. A few years later, positive articles began to appear. - tthis seems like the slimmest of threads and is laughable, for anyone who knows how PR works; c'mon Times! You are a great paper and should not be so sloppy in your reporting.