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February 18, 2011
Edelman: PR's No Patsy
Richard Edelman, CEO of Edelman, thinks the public could use a more balanced perception of public relations in the face of attacks like that from former Cigna PR head Wendell Potter in his book Deadly Spin. And, indeed, that's so. Interviewed in Canada during a tour for his firm's Trust Barometer, Edelman was asked why PR firms shun controversy instead of speaking up.

"That which I found very objectionable (about Potter's book) was his then blanket characterization of PR as somehow morally bankrupt – inherently evil, actually. I just thought he completely ignored ... for example, in the pharma companies, those who can't afford to pay, there are many programs for access. Concessionary pricing. He ignored work that (PR) people have done with Wal-Mart over the last five years on changing environmental practice and whatnot. And, by the way, improving worker benefits and health benefits and all that sort of thing. He overlooks completely the constructive role of PR."

So why, Edelman was asked, don't "more people or PR firms stand up for the industry?"

"I chalk it up," he responded, "to some part of being owned by ad agencies that basically ask them not to et to be too controversial."

Edelman also had something to say about PR's growing role in social media. "The insight that I have on this is, the digital people come at a marketing problem with tools, and they're very elegant and beautiful ... . The ad guys come at it with a big idea. The PR guys come at it with conversation.

"My view? The world's moving social – that which is Twitter, Facebook, etc. – so it's 'expressions, not impressions,' to quote someone who I saw in Davos. That helps us, because we're good at conversation, we're good at 24/7-on, we're good at not just pretty and celebrity, we're good at real people talking about brands and experiences they had on BlackBerry.  (Research in Motion is a client.) So, yeah, I hope 10 years from now we're having a conversation about the communications business, not just the PR business."

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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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