03 November 2007

The perception of PR

To paraphrase American singer/songwriter, Jimmy Buffett: “Public relations, public relations, boozing and schmoozing that's what I do ... public relations such hullabaloo ... ego inflation, that's what I do … it’s only public relations, who’s screwing who … just give me some time and I’ll make it come true.” I play it to students in their first tutorial. Mostly they think it’s a nice tune but don’t really listen to the words.

Unfortunately, Buffet’s image of PR reflects the still commonly-held perception of what many practitioners do. And therein lies the problem: the perception of PR.

For a profession that is all about perception, what are professionals doing about it? Not much. If professional bodies such as the PRIA were serious about it, they’d be mounting a PR campaign to counteract the skewed perceptions we suffer. TV shows such as Ab Fab, Absolute Power (to name but two) do nothing to enhance our standing in the business community. It riles me when all students are taught is they must fight to “get a seat at the boardroom table” so they can influence decision-making. Yeah, right.

The accounting profession has adopted a great series of (US) advertisements that push the benefits of having a CPA working for business. What have we got? Zilch, that’s what. Unfortunately, the PRIA’s membership numbers couldn’t afford to subsidise a TV ad campaign. The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates there are 11-14,000 people who classify themselves as PR practitioners. The membership of the PRIA is under 3000. That’s another story.

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The PR Lab is a consultancy, specialising on research, reputation management, social media, media relations and the development of measurable strategies that produce results. It is run by Dr Greg Smith, a former journalist and PR professional. Greg worked on daily newspapers in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth. He held senior PR positions in the Australian Defence Force, Sydney Olympics and national not-for-profits. He has also lectured in PR at Edith Cowan University and the University of Notre Dame Australia.