Public Relations (PR) is associated in many people’s minds with spin, dodgy dossiers, late lunches and lipstick. PR is dressing things up, applying sequins and glitz, pushing dirty news through a spin cycle, coming out even dirtier when it meets the public. The virtues of trust, integrity, honesty and transparency would seem to be a distant cry from this “Absolutely Fabulous” industry. In short, PR has bad PR. Change is in our midst. A new PR, with moral, social, spiritual and commercial values at its core, is emerging on the horizon. But why should we care? PR may be perceived as shallow, but it doesn’t have the ability to harm. Or does it?
Back in the 1960s, before the age of globalisation and the World Wide Web, Malcolm X said: “The media’s the most powerful entity on Earth. It has the power to make the guilty innocent and the innocent guilty. And that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.” Now substitute “the media” for “PR” and read Malcolm X’s statement again. You may now have some sense of the modern PR professional’s power in society. Glamour and glitz fail to bare witness to the true story of PR; a story where ethics and rigour can mean the difference between life and death.
So what is the way forward for PR?
We are in the midst of a tidal wave of virtues. The global recession has dragged dialogue about integrity, short-termism, and global responsibility into the forefront of the public psyche. People want to know about other people’s values, their humanity (not, necessarily, about their personality), in order to know that they can trust and empathise with them. Candid values and virtues were once considered liabilities in the PR person’s armory – signs of going soft or not willing to get the job done. The reality is that with new media tools such as Twitter, honesty and vulnerability are valuable assets. Virtues aren’t something you do, they are something you are – and this time, there’s no faking it.
PR Week magazine hosted a debate recently on “Do PR professionals have the duty to tell the truth?” When the debate finished, a majority of PR students and practitioners present voted that they do not have the duty to tell the truth. When we consider the debate results alongside the massive proportion of news originating from PR practitioners, this is a snowball that desperately needs stopping – for all our sakes. While the lies, misinformation and smiling spin continue, PR will neither gain the trust of the public nor live up to its role or responsibility as the most powerful entity on earth. Damningly, the snowball of lies and mistruths is hopelessly stuck in a past era, out of touch with the values of transparency, integrity and honesty that are so important to today’s astute consumer.
This essay is to be featured in the book 'Media Values' Edited by Richard Lance Keeble, published by Troubador, Leicester in October 2010. The book is inspired by the work of Bill Porter, Founder of the International Communications Forum
To see a short video of Simon's TEDxTeen talk on Personal Relations, 'Playstation, Pizza and a Living Buddha', please click on the home page of global tolerance connect or go to the main global tolerance site, http://www.globaltolerance.com