Bad PR for the PR Profession

September 18th, 2005 by Bob Bly

In her new book ?Bait and Switch,? Barbara Ehrenreich writes: ?PR is really journalism?s evil twin.?

?Whereas a journalist seeks the truth, a PR person may be called upon to disguise it or even to advance an untruth,? says Ehrenreich. ?If your employer, a pharmaceutical company, claims its new drug cures both cancer and erectile dysfunction, your job is to promote it, not to investigate the ground for these claims.?

PR practitioners: Is Barbara way out of line? Or right on target?

Share

This entry was posted on Sunday, September 18th, 2005 at 1:10 pm and is filed under PR. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

30 responses about “Bad PR for the PR Profession”

  1. Richard Leader said:

    Not sure I’d agree that journalists seek the truth… Many journalists seek circulation figures – and that often means a version of the truth sometimes as well disguised as that version of the truth that comes from PR.

  2. Mordechai (Morty) Schiller said:

    Nobody owns a copyright on truth or lies.

    There’s an old joke about the Russian Communist “news”papers Pravda (“Truth”) and Izvestia (“News”): “V Pravdye nye izvestia, v Izvestia nye pravda–There’s no news in The Truth and no truth in The News!”

    Our own newspapers enjoy their own “freedom of the press.” Do the New York Times and the Washington Post seek the truth? Honestly?

    In “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” the reporter tears up his notes and tells Senator Ranse Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart) why he can’t print the real story: “It ain’t news. This is the West! When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

    All marketing is mental jiu-jitsu. You use what’s already in the prospect’s mind to position your product or service. Is that evil? Is that news?

  3. Peter said:

    Nobody owns a copyright on truth or lies.

    I don’t think that’s a point of contention. The thing is, we’d all be better off if these people were more honest and substantially aware of the impact of their work. To them it’s just spilling shlock for press releases, but these drugs have serious impacts on families and their loved ones. Similarly, as noted, journalism has very little to do with telling the truth. On the same note, their constant stream of bullshit does nothing but lower the level of the national discourse to a retarded level of exchanging meaningless “talking points”. So you can talk about how it’s relatively hands-off and it doesn’t really matter and you can sleep fine at night because big media or big pharma pays your bills – for now. Things are going to catch up and bite society in the ass in a big way, sooner rather than later.

  4. Mordechai (Morty) Schiller --Wordrider said:
    Truth, Lies and PR
    Bob Bly tossed this Molotov cocktail into his blog and asked PR practitioners to comment:

  5. Bonnie said:

    I think she is out of line because she’s perpetuating the myth that all PR people are unethical spinmeisters who care only about their company’s image and bottom line. She’s also perpetuating the myth that all journalists seek the truth. In my opinion, both are false. And both are true. Neither applies to ALL PR people or ALL journalists. And hopefully, neither applies to most.

    The PR profession is striving to improve its image and is getting better, while journalism seems to be getting worse. (Especially TV journalism!)

    Canadian Public Relations Society Code of Professional Standards: “A member shall practice the highest standards of honesty, accuracy, integrity and truth, and shall not knowingly disseminate false or misleading information.”

    PublicRelations Society of America Code of Ethics: “We adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing the interests of those we represent and in communicating with the public.”

    Of course, not everyone complies. But there are bad apples in every field. Why label an entire profession — whether PR, Journalists, writers, or whatever — based on the actions of a few idiots?

  6. Darren said:

    While I agree with the 2nd part of Ms. Ehrenreich’s comment, I don’t think it’s accurate to compare PR and Journalism. They’re apples and oranges. The objective of Journalism (ideally) is to inform and educate while the objective of PR is to position a company and/or brand and, ultimately, sell something. (And, yes, previous comments about the true nature of Journalism should be duly noted — I’m speaking idealistically here.) I understand that in the real world, Journalism is also about selling, but it’s about selling the sensationalism of a story in order to jolt circulation, not selling a product. Bottom line: due to the conflicting goals of each, it seems inaccurate to compare them.

  7. Steve Slaunwhite said:

    Both PR pros and journalists are competing for the same market: readers. And the competition is fierce. Although both claim to be dedicated to the truth (the Public Relations Society of America actually requires members to sign an oath to that effect), the pressure is on to gain reader attention. As a result, “truth” is sometimes lost in a whirlwind of sensationalism, spin, and/or exaggeration.

  8. Mordechai (Morty) Schiller said:

    Peter (comment 3) scolds me (with some justification) for sidestepping the issue by pointing out that “There’s no truth in the news.”

    I don’t mean to justify deception in any field. But the quote about PR was a sanctimonious sideswipe that was ill-advised at best.

    “It seems to me,” said Sancho [to Don Quixote], “that your worship is like the common saying, ‘Said the frying-pan to the kettle, Get away, blackbreech.’ You chide me for uttering proverbs, and you string them in couples yourself.”

    On a technical note, my “Trackback” comment (#4 above) was supposed to link to my own blog post about Bob’s question. For some reason, the “[Read More]” link got cut off. The rest of my comment is here: http://wordrider.blogspot.com/2005/09/truth-lies-and-pr.html

  9. Asdf said:

    :\

  10. Anonymouse said:

    Barbara Ehrenreich–I heard her interviewed for the first time ever recently. Never heard of her before. This is one lady with a huge political agenda, which becomes obvious when asked what she thinks is the solution to the problem–which basically would involve massive government spending.

  11. Buzzoodle Ron said:

    How much of the PR is true and interesting (newsworthy) will ultimately be what differentiates the successful PR effort from the wasted PR effort. We specialize in word of mouth, and while you can create some buzz, you cannot sustain it or watch it take off without having people agree with the effort and spread it on their own.

  12. Dave Gardner said:

    aargh! The comment “a journalist seeks the truth, a PR person may be called upon to disguise it or even to advance an untruth” rankles me. I have a degree in science with certification in writing. I’ve been a newspaper staff writer/photographer. I’ve been a freelance writer. I’ve also been a technical editor/writer for the past 24 years. I’ve worked for giant software companies, small hardware companies, NASA-Space Station Project, Dept. of Energy, Dept. of Defense, and also as a contractor (freelance) tech writer/translator. I’ve seen how so-called *journalists* can *slant* their articles by skillful manipulation of their words–how the different connotations can be used with words having similar denotations. If a *journalist* has a certain belief or political orientation, that *journalist* will convey this attitude in articles that will highlight the biased background. I’ve been a member of organizations (both corporate and other) that have been attacked by media people already having a preconceived idea of what they *think* they are reporting on… So… *ANYTHING* written should be scrutinized with a critical eye at the background of the writer (including *my* stuff ). Yes, PR folks, Marcom folks, and Copywriters are paid to entice someone to buy what is being written about. But *journalists* sometimes are being paid to increase circulation of the media to the point of sensationalizing and muck-raking and using their word skills to sway a public’s opinion to *their* belief system rather than presenting the truth in an objective fashion to allow the public to come to their own conclusions. Sorry about the rambling… didn’t have the time to come up with a concise and better thought out response. PS: Mr. Bly, many of your books have made a major difference in my writing career. I always enjoy going back through them for refreshing ideas in technical writing, copywriting, freelance writing, and selling my services! Regards, Dave Gardner

  13. Susan Getgood said:

    The journalist’s job is to provide an “objective” third party view of the news to the reader under the basic assumption that there is too much to follow for the reader to do it on his own, he needs the paper the distill it down for him. The growth of blogs notwithstanding, we will continue to need journalists and mainstream media to perform this function, which we supplement with blogs etc. By and large the media does a decent job — yes there are crappy reporters and journalists who make mistakes and talk show hosts with political agendas and so forth. But the alternatives are no better and possibly worse. The devil we know….
    The PR person’s job is to promote her client’s products and services using the media as the intermediary. Are there unethical PR people? Probably, most certainly. But they are the minority not the majority. The majority of PR people are responsible, ethical practitioners of the profession who provide information to those reporters mentioned above so they can so their job of evaluating and reporting it.
    Polarizing statements like the one Bob quoted to start this thread are deliberately made to garner attention and advance an agenda. They do not reflect the reality, which is that most PR people and journalists are responsible, ethical professionals.
    I believe the phrase is: one bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch :-)

  14. Dave Gardner said:

    Couldn’t help but jump back in… here’s an example (from another blog) where the “journalist” didn’t do the research and thinking required to produce objective reporting.. but rather sensationalized the subject –and the blogger’s response:
    http://www.vespaway.com/2005/10/an_open_letter_.html
    The comment from one of the blog readers has a point as well.

  15. Steve Cody said:

    I’m in the midst of reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s new book, “Bait and Switch: the (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream.” As she did in her incredible “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America” tome of 2001, when she went “undercover” to see what it was like to be a member of America’s working poor, Ehrenreich goes incognito in search of a new story.
    This one really hits close to home, as the former New York Times columnist reinvents herself as a 50-year-old unemployed public relations freelancer and event planner. She takes the reader along as she goes job hunting for a full-time corporate PR gig.
    Unlike “Nickle and Dimed,” however, the story is slow and unappealing. The author spends far too much time ridiculing the various self-help job search gurus and PR executives she encounters on her sojourn. What really got my attention, though, were Ehrenreich’s constant jabs at, and put downs of, the public relations field, which she refers to as “journalism’s evil twin.”
    Ehrenreich reminds me of so many other “holier-than-thou” journalists who look down their collective noses at PR and refuse to admit how much they depend upon us for ideas and access. This has obviously been an age-old problem for PR people and isn’t likely to change anytime soon.
    Still, I’d love to hear or read something from a journalist that speaks objectively about PR, and recognizes what we bring to today’s 24×7 world.
    Well, I can always dream. Oh, and by the way, Ms. Ehrenreich? We’d never hire anyone with such preconceived notions and such an obvious chip on her shoulder. Better hang onto that day job.

  16. Sapphic Erotica said:

    The movies and pics are great from Sapphic Erotica lovely.

  17. Anne Howard said:

    I have been working in PR for close to twenty years and if awhat I did was promote lies on behalf of my clients, I can guarantee that not one journalist would answer my queries any longer. That kind of approach to the business of promoting news is sickening. Pharmaceutical companies have to back up their claims with numerous clinical studies and are careful not to lie and most reporters want to see and read all what the competition has to say too. Come on, give us all a bit more credit. Well if I were a reporter and I received a press release from Barbara Ehrenreich, it would go directly to the trash can.
    Cordially
    Anne Laszlo-Howard at RushPRnews, http://www.rushprnews.com, press release services and distribution to newsrooms.

  18. Joel Drucker said:

    Having just read this book, and having been a PR agency practitioner for a decade before transitioning into journalism and corporate writing, I’m disappointed (but not surprised) that someone as attentive to nuance as Barbara Ehrenreich would fail to see an irony. The tools of PR — persuasion, communication, publicity — are not ideological and inherently “evil.” Look no further than Ehrenreich’s tidy web site. Or, for that matter look at anything from the March on Washington to Gandhi — masters of public relations in action. But, alas, the rub is that in many cases it’s the practitioners who lack ideology — PR folks who’ll willingly ply their trade for any buck, any cause.

  19. Rob Palmer said:

    PR and journalism go hand in hand – they both depend upon each other. Sometimes the relationship is strained, but overall it works out for everyone.

  20. kettle said:

    Does Journolist integrity exist anymore these days or is it about selling newspapers

  21. kcnughmuef said:

    Hello! Good Site! Thanks you! yuzfhmubcqkc

  22. gxxsoccjfv said:

    Thanks for this site!
    s.dsbcxb.biz
    uf.dzbdxb.biz
    f.dzbdxb.biz

  23. wedding favors said:

    I am looking unique wedding favors
    I have find some results But I think this one is good.

  24. daniel said:

    What page is this quote from in the book?

    that would be very helpful. i am writing an essay on the positive and negative aspects of the relationship between journalists and PRO’s

    dan

  25. Charity Prater said:

    I think PR and journalists scratch each others backs a lot of the time. I know many small-town papers that rely on heavily on PR to get stories.

  26. Jake@softmod wii said:

    Usually bad news generally circulates within the company only, and only the big shorts gets to deal with it. Until they’re ready to let the public know what’s going on.

  27. one year anniversary ideas for boyfriend said:

    one year anniversary ideas for boyfriend…

    [...]Bad PR for the PR Profession – bly.com blog – bly.com direct marketing blog[...]…

  28. PLR articles, PLR ebooks, Spin Ready Articles, MRR articles, MRR ebooks, PLR Spin Ready Articles,PLR article, PLR ebook, MRR Spin Ready Articles, PLR Spun Articles,MRR spun articles, Private label rights, Private label rights ebook, Private label rights a said:

    PLR articles, PLR ebooks, Spin Ready Articles, MRR articles, MRR ebooks, PLR Spin Ready Articles,PLR article, PLR ebook, MRR Spin Ready Articles, PLR Spun Articles,MRR spun articles, Private label rights, Private label rights ebook, Private label rig…

    [...]Bad PR for the PR Profession – bly.com blog – bly.com direct marketing blog[...]…

  29. games to play for free for girls for babysitting said:

    The brand new Microsoft zune browser can be amazingly excellent, although not as well as the actual iPod’s. It works effectively, yet isn’t as quick as Internet explorer, and it has a new clunkier user interface. In the event you sometimes consider while using the browser that is not a worry, in case you’re planning to look at web alot from a PMP then this iPod’s greater screen and better browser might be critical.

  30. Kreuzer said:

    What you posted made a bunch of sense. However, what about this? suppose you were to create a awesome headline? I ain’t saying your content isn’t solid, but suppose you added a headline that grabbed people’s attention? You could glance at Yahoo’s front page and watch how they create post titles to grab viewers interested. You might add a video or a related picture or two to grab readers interested about what you’ve got to say. Just my opinion.

Leave a Reply