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Redefining PR Has Been Years in the Making
By: Shawn Paul Wood
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Used car salesmen. Lawyers. The 2 a.m. televangelist. Today's Congress. And PR professionals? Regretfully, this has become the tetrahedron of B.S. Incorporated. I can take it. I've met a slew of people in my beloved profession whose pants were on fire the second they opened their mouths.

It's like that in any profession, I suppose. There are always going to be dolts who cut corners, treat vendors with no respect, steal credit for others' work, and create an oozing stain on their professions. It just seems that douche-per-capita numbers are off the charts in public relations, if you ask around. Aside from the misperceptions, there's another huge cross-section of the globe that have no clue what we do. I believe my mother is that community's HOA president. I still remember one of my first conversations between mother and son when I decided that this is what I want to be when I grow up (which is to say, radio wasn't working out, so I had to find a gig that touched on my experience).

MOM: So, what is PR?
ME: I have the opportunity to share the stories of my clients that don't have the opportunity or ability to do it themselves.
MOM: Can't they just pick up a phone?
ME: Sure they can, but they're either too busy or just don't understand what the press considers newsworthy.
MOM: Wait. What do you do again?
ME: Sigh. I get people on TV.
MOM: Oh, I get it now.

For years, it's either been a harangue of hate mail or question marks floating overhead. Then, with a gold-encrusted "PR" on its collective chest amidst rousing applause from flacks everywhere, swoops in the PRSA with its highly necessary campaign to redefine public relations, as noted in the New York Times. The name of the campaign is "Public Relations Defined" and it will "modernize the definition of public relations and increase its value." And it's not just the PRSA — it's a roundtable of bigwig flacks everywhere. PRSA partnered with the following organizations to provide input and support: It's the evolution of things, right? First, the ballyhoo of metrics and advertising equivalency value. Then, how reporters should relate with PR types. Now, this. Thank goodness, because according to the PRSA, there are some in the media that don't have such a lovely impression of us:
  • From The Economist (“Rise of the Image Men,” Dec. 16, 2010): “After a century of spinning, PR Man remains uncertain of his proper role. Is he a master manipulator? Is he the devil’s advocate (as long as Satan pays his fees)? Or is he a benign bridge-builder between the corporate world and the public?”
  • From Jack Shafer at Slate.com (May 13, 2011): “Most PR campaigns are ‘smear campaigns.’ … “Every reporter approached by PR firms knows that the primary focus of PR firms is to push lies. If PR people were being paid to push the truth, they’d be called reporters.”
"Manipulator"? "Liars"? "Satan"? Come on, people. For all our sakes — even those who don't deserve the help — I hope the PRSA is successful in this redefinition campaign. People need to understand what we do, know why we do it, and believe we do what we say we are doing. Like many of my ilk, I have established some great relationships in this symbiotic thing called "working with the media." They know I'm not a crook nor am I spinning a Bernie Madoff story into some philanthropic piece. And why? Because I understand what they do and respect how they do it.

Perhaps after the PRSA calls up both Merriam and Webster, we can have a big flack consult around the campfire and discuss how to restore our image afterwards. In the meantime, I'll be over her explaining to Mom this new-fangled Twitter thing and how exactly I "get people on TV."

Bonne Chance, PRSA!


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About the Author
Shawn Paul Wood is a hack-turned-flack with more than 20 years of collective journalism, copywriting and marketing communications experience. Shawn Paul is founder of Woodworks Communications in Dallas, Texas. If you need him, ping him here or follow him on Twitter @ShawnPaulWood
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