What's the deal with The Economist and public relations?
This year the magazine has written several tirades against public relations professionals. In its latest outbreak, they haughtily refers to PR people as "flacks," slime-slingers," members of the "dark side" and "urban foxes" along with other terms of endearment.
Wow. What happened to objectivity and remaining open-minded?
According to The Economist, the issue is that there are simply too much "brazen flacks," (who it mistakenly identifies as men, when there are actually a predominance of women in the profession) who supposedly spend all of their time "hassling reporters to run crummy stories."
The perniciously toned article seems like the writer took in a few sardonic journalists' views on PR from nearly a century ago. It even quotes a 1928 book by Edward Bernay, an early PR pioneer, as proof of the profession's unscrupulousness.
That's a bit like finding an early medical textbook about blood-letting and claiming that defines the medical practicioners' trade. Could this be any more ridiculous?
Here's a suggestion for the piece's author: how about he/she speaks to some of the women dominating the field of public relations today since this person still thinks it's a male-dominated field. To begin with, here are two excellent lists of women in PR (I'm greatly honored to be listed on both). One is compiled by the altruistic, savvy Valentine Belonwu (@bigmoneywebs) and the other by the amazing, extremely hard-working duo of Cheryl Burgess (@ckburgess) and Tom Pick (@tompick).
As a long-time B2B public relations professional, I can honestly say that there has never been (in my 20+ years in the field) as exciting a time to be in PR. That's largely due to the vast expansion of the public relations landscape from the Internet. Nowadays, for instance, there are almost an infinite amount of ways to get the word out. This includes everything from tweeting an article, posting it on your own blog/website, spreading it on Facebook, LinkedIn and MANY other social media hubs; talking about it on a video email, in a podcast, in a webinar, or on other people's blogs. Come to think of it, if you can't find a way to talk yourself up today, you're probably doing something very wrong.
Of course, there is always the media. However, a legitimate PR pro's job has never been, "to pitch a crummy story" as the Economist claims, but rather to turn what might have been a "crummy story" into something engaging. For instance, there's an exceptional story I read some years ago regarding scientists training elephants in Africa. It was a new training program and they were having a day where they were showing off the elephants' accomplishments. A sharp PR person transformed this into the First Ever Graduating Class of Elephant University -- taking what might have been mundane and made it memorable. To me, that's being creative. This is the duty of any PR professional worth his/her salt.
What's your take on this? I look forward to hearing from you.
Wendy Marx is the founder and president of Marx Communications, a boutique inbound marketing and public relations agency. An award-winning B2B public relations pro, she has helped many small- & medium-sized firms (SMBs) become well-known industry brands and transform their businesses, going from Anonymity to Industry Icon™.
Her business articles have appeared in The New York Times, InformationWeek, Inc., Advertising Age, & Fast Company, among other outlets.