I just read two stories that should make public relations professionals everywhere take notice. The first one talked about how we as a profession have generally ignored the pleas of the media to halt the outdated and useless practice of sending press releases. The second one was from a university professor who had his students tell him that they thought it was okay to lie because that is what public relations pros are supposed to do.
The continued proliferation of press releases is inexcusable. We have worked hard at Barkley over the years to move away from releases when possible and focus instead on building relationships with the right media, and now bloggers and social communities. We then work to identify the stories our clients have to tell and the right person to tell them and then bring everyone together. Very little paper need be used for this approach.
The fact remains that there are clients who still want a release sent out to preview their story with media etc. And the fact remains that too often, we as PR pros go along with the client when we should be telling them the press release is a dead tactic and should be properly buried. Public companies will continue to need to issue formal financial statements but beyond that, external communications today must be conversational in nature. You don't script conversations.
The issue of releases is easily fixed. The second problem is not. The fact that some college students have it in their head that successful public relations is based on dishonest discourse is disheartening at best. No one is naive about where this notion gets its fuel. We all see and hear politicians today basically saying whatever they want regardless of whether its true. Of course, behind every politician there is a "communications consultant" helping them figure out their next soundbite. Politics permeates our lives in so many ways. Therefore it's unfortunately a short hop for a student to assume this must be the way it is done across the board, not just in politics.
I have been in this profession for nearly 30 years after six years in the news media. I can honestly say without hesitation that the public relations professionals I have worked with or know do not suggest lying as a successful strategy. It is just the opposite. A client must walk the walk in order to talk the talk. Truth, transparency and authenticity are today's measuring sticks in the marketplace. Anyone can fake it for a while, but in today's wide open social media environment, the fakers will be found out quickly.
While it would be nice to think this one classroom of students was the exception and not the rule, we all know what happens when one assumes something. My challenge to public relations pros everywhere is to call your alma mater or other colleges and make an appointment to speak to as many classes as possible as soon as possible. Let's turn the bright light of the real world on in college classrooms everywhere and demonstrate what real, authentic public relations is all about. And what the power of it done right can do for every organization's most important asset - its reputation.