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Public Relations Has a PR Problem

It's easy for a journalist to tweet snide remarks about PR people, but our symbiotic relationship should not be overlooked.
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For an industry centered on managing a brand's reputation and image, it seems like PR practitioners need to do some damage control of their own.

Allow me to wax romantic about the public relations profession for a moment. I got into this business because I love the news. That might make you wonder why I didn't just become a journalist. The answer is simple. In 2006 when I started my career, I saw that traditional journalism was dying. Newsrooms were shrinking and online forums were gaining steam. It was an exciting time where everything was changing about the way people sourced information. By going into PR, I'd have the opportunity to be a part of the excitement.

I have gleefully enjoyed being part of this seismic shift in communications over the last several years. It is a fulfilling and exhilarating, albeit exhausting, career. And while I'm having a blast doing this work, I am sick of having to defend myself for it.

A quick Google or Twitter search brings up several disturbing results. An example: this Deadspin post from a few years ago opens with the line, "PR people are stupid. Not all of them, just some of them" and is filed under the category of "PR Dummies." As a generalization, many journalists seem to have a profound aversion for PR practitioners. I get it, there are a few of us who make mistakes and ruin it for everyone. Journalists get hundreds of emails a day from people like me, many of them irrelevant. We're also perceived by many as deceptive spin-doctors who aim to hoodwink the poor consumer. The term 'flack' is not a compliment.

It's easy for a journalist to tweet snide remarks about PR people, but our symbiotic relationship should not be overlooked. In the age of information overload, we can help journalists do their jobs more efficiently and effectively. It's really hard for me to see Tweets disparaging PR people when I just finished writing an entire article for a journalist because he was too busy to write it himself. Let's just be honest here: A regular part of my job as a PR professional is to write articles that get published verbatim in magazines, newspapers and blogs. The journalists I work with depend on those articles because they often don't have enough manpower to produce all the content in-house anymore.

And despite many misconceptions, PR is no 'pink collar ghetto.' A survey from a few years ago claimed that 85 percent of the industry is female but that doesn't mean that we're sitting around in pink offices, planning fabulous events like Samantha Jones from Sex in the City while giggling with our girlfriends. In fact, I've spent most of my career advising B2B technology companies, tech start-ups, utilities and industrial manufacturers - not planning parties. Just because there are many women among our ranks doesn't make us any less intelligent or strategic than say, a male advertising executive.

Forbes ranked public relations as the sixth most stressful job in America with a median salary of $54,000. Let's be clear: we're not doing this for the caviar or the Loubotins. We do it because we love it. PR professionals often work eight, nine, or ten hour days and then have to attend events and networking functions at night. That means that some entry-level employees end up making much less than minimum wage. Just like a journalist, I do this because I love being involved with the media. I love helping my clients raise awareness and sell more products and services, enabling them to fuel the economy and employ more people. I smile when I think about the time a client was so overjoyed that we got them in the Wall Street Journal that they almost cried. Those media placements can be game-changing for businesses, especially small organizations with limited advertising budgets.

Despite the few in our industry who give us a bad name, there is a very important place for PR practitioners. What do you think? Share your comments below.

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