04 May 2008

Poor PR for PR

The excellent British TV series, Absolute Power, provided viewers on the ABC with a dark comedy that portrayed PR in a poor (some would say, realistic) light.

The fictional firm of Prentice-McCabe dealt with a diverse range of clients, including politicians, drug-taking pop stars, ambitious archbishops and even Osama Bin Laden's cousin, who wanted to buy British Airways.

Each episode seemed to have one quote which summed up the writers' views of PR. Some examples: "Authenticity is not a currency we actually deal in ... PR means never having to say you’re wrong ... Everything we do is predicated on deceit. We’re shit. We’re in the gutter ... PR is intercourse with people you despise." You get the picture.

The trouble is that this show, and others about the profession, such as Absolutely Fabulous and Sex in the City, portray PR as all those things it is not.

Sure, there are many practitioners who used to be like that. And there are still some who follow those mantras.

My point is that the industry does nothing to correct these impressions. Possible it believes no harm will come; that it's just good entertainment. What the heck. They say any publicity is good publicity. Not in this instance.

These types of shows do irreparable harm to the profession's image. It's probably part of the reason few men are not studying PR at university. Males simply don't see PR as a serious subject. This is backed by findings of my PhD study into why more women than men are entering PR.

But why do we so little about it?

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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.