Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Express-News Editorial in Error about PR

Yesterday, the San Antonio Express-News published an editorial, “BexarMet needs more than PR,” that frankly gives a pretty dim view of our profession. I have no issue with the headline. BexarMet does need more than public relations. We’ve long known that public relations campaigns cannot fix operational or leadership problems.

The editors are also right to question any expense taken on by the board. I wouldn’t argue that the BexarMet’s days are likely “numbered.” I don’t claim to know anything about the (non-San Antonio) PR firm or the contract it’s been hired to fulfill. And clearly, BexarMet’s history in the PR department has been – shall we say – questionable.

I grant the Express-News editors all of that.

In fact, let’s set aside that this is BexarMet at all.

My concern is the implication that public relations is singularly interested in making someone “look good,” or burnishing a “bruised public image” or casting someone in a “positive light.” I can honestly say, none of these goals are in my job description.

It is paramount that organizations be effective at communicating – especially those that serve the public interest directly. And communication is more complicated than it may seem. There's a whole body of knowledge are research in this area. Communication requires not just speaking, but listening as well. Organizations that are in trouble typically need counsel in this area. There is no shame in getting help where it is critically needed.

Naturally, as in all professions, a few bad PR apples have gotten the spotlight. But these don’t represent our profession by any stretch. If we’re doing our job well, our successes are our organizations’ successes.

Take a look at the code of ethics and professional standards that guides our work. All PRSA members pledge to abide by this code. Any PR practitioner worth his or her salt would of course counsel an organization to do things like, as the Express-News editors call for, end scandals, improve service where it’s been weak, and work with lawmakers constructively, among other things like being in dialog with constituents and customers. And I'm pretty sure that, deep down, the editors know this too.

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