Let me qualify that. Of course, public relations professionals make mistakes, and there are many – myself included – who are not as competent as they should be. But that’s not what I’m talking about.
Public relations is, by definition, a field that serves the public interest.
When so-called PR activities do not serve the public interest or when they hurt the public, then they are not public relations.
Such activities include the “clueless telemarketing/spamming” of “drones” that Dan York has been “ranting” about. And they include astroturfing and other deceitful campaigns. We should call them what they are: propaganda, laziness, unethical… But we should not call them public relations!
It’s like we’ve given in to the perception that all this stuff is a part of our profession that we don’t like. Our acquiescence is a big reason for the PR profession’s PR problem that we keep talking about. It is also a key reason some people are easily led to believe that such tactics are ok.
No, it’s not all black and white. Terry Fallis and David Jones, focused their Inside PR #21 podcast (August 22, 2006) on the issue and asked honest questions about when an activity is astroturfing and when is it not. It was a healthy conversation. We need more of them. As public relations leaders, it is our job to help define the gray areas.