Thursday, November 5, 2009

Value of public relations

Once again, the public relations industry finds it must defend its value as a legitimate business for government and public agencies.

This will be the first in a series of occasional entries about demonstrating the true value of public relations.

The good news is the Public Relations Society of America recently launched an advocacy effort, called "The Business Case for Public Relations," that should "level" the discussion about an important, international industry sector.

A recent attack arose at the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. (Full disclosure: I was the Media Services Section Manager in the External Affairs department at MWD for seven years until 2008. The section is, essentially, the public relations arm of External Affairs, running the press office, publications, etc. And, I chose to retire to enable me to take advantage of my "big" pension of $1,500 a month - after taxes. For these reasons this entry won't attempt to justify the now-dead pension change. Well, just one comment: Realize those pension benefits are taxed. Reduced pensions will mean less tax revenue.)

Articles in the Orange County Register and columns in the Daily News and San Diego Union Tribune, along with some tasty blogs, all used common "action" words to describe public relations in a negative light. "High priced consultant." "Politically connected." "Spin." "Slick public relations campaigns." And so on.

When I was a journalist, I was among the many who held a healthy skepticism of public relations specialists calling me with "information" or a "story idea." But, that is the nature of journalists. They are skeptical of everyone.

But when a healthy skepticism moves over to easily thrown and outdated accusations in public, the only ones served are those pulling the school fire alarm during finals. It is all too easy to take a swing at "PR" because, gee, aren't these guys simply trying to spin us? And, wow, look at how much money they are being paid. Why do any pure, deep examination of "why" a public relations consultant was hired? Why examine the information that actually is being disseminated - let's just focus on the "hiring" of a public relations firm. It's much easier to capitalize on old images to get a reader nodding their head. Lazy reporting. Lazy editorializing. An easy way to get your story noticed.

So, public relations professionals, don't quietly take our lumps. Perpetuation of bad, incorrect images will create hesitation among potential clients. Challenge the "conventional" wisdom.

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