Public Relations’ Public Relations Problem

It’s ironic that the field of public relations has a public relations issue. You’d think that an industry filled with so many specialists concerned with reputation, image and communication would have the public convinced they are doing God’s work.

Not so.

Public relations is suffering an image crisis and is in need of some serious rebranding. As Stuart Elliott discusses in his article, “Redefining Public Relations in the Age of Social Media,” public relations is just now receiving a revamped definition that is long overdue.

The Public Relations Society of America is heading the effort to redefine “public relations,” a term that was last updated in 1982. It’s safe to say that some major changes have transformed the field since then.

For one, the social media revolution. As Elliott states, social media has transformed the way public relations professionals communicate with the public. Once, the communication was top-down and monological. Now, thanks to such platforms as Twitter and Facebook, such communication is typically two-way conversation.

“Public relations” needs a new definition to fit with new methods of communication, that’s for sure. But the industry’s rebranding shouldn’t be considered complete just because a shiny new definition has been introduced. Those in the industry need to dig a little deeper into what public relations is here for, and what it should take to be considered a public relations professional.

Misconceptions and vagueness surround public relations, making it difficult for the public to trust it and take it seriously as a profession.

As stated in the Elliott’s article, Dan Tisch, chairman of the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management, acknowledges that the industry “has, at times, had an image problem, which flows from the fact that people quite often view public relations as ‘spin.’”

This is one of those times.

Especially after the BP public relations debacle, the field of public relations isn’t quite out of the doghouse with the public. Like a suspicious lipstick stain on the collar of the industry, that incident (besides being a horrible crisis) has left the public with some serious sentiment of distrust.

For BP, “better late than never” didn’t work out in its favor, and the crisis “management” appeared sloppy and ingenuine. But BP wasn’t the only one hurt in the fallout. It also seemed to badly portray the industry that executed the communication. It left public relations professionals looking superfluous, inept and unnecessary.

It seems that the industry is finally looking inward at its own crisis of reputation.

I believe that now is a better time than ever to establish methods of becoming a “certified public relations professional.” Tisch states that among those working in the public relations industry, “only roughly 10 percent or fewer are actually members of professional associations, subject to standards of practice and codes of ethics.” Without the accountability of certification, it seems difficult to distinguish which are practicing ethics and professionalism, and who aren’t.

It’s time that all who want to be called a “public relations professional” are subjected to standards of certification and held to a standard of practice. The BP incident was a bad apple. It’s time the industry gives the public a reason to trust that there’s accountability in ensuring one bad apple hasn’t spoiled the bunch.

 

(Photo found here.)

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5 thoughts on “Public Relations’ Public Relations Problem

  1. Steve Noufer says:

    I think it’s hard to avoid PR people being cast as shady when their job is sometimes trying to portray some pretty nasty people in as good a light as possible. Sort of like lawyers.who have a stellar reputation of course.

    • dnoufer says:

      That could be true. Which is why it surprises me that PR professionals, being concerned with perception of clients, etc., don’t do a little more work to improve how the public perceives their own industry.

  2. It would help the profession if they had a board certification process, that way you knew people were trained correctly. It would also help if people then had to sign/ agree to a way of behavior, like lawyers, and could be kicked out for acting unethically. It’s a start.

  3. daciacanterbury says:

    Reblogged this on CSU Communication Internships.

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