One of the giants of post-World War II public relations, Tim Traverse-Healy, has published a “credo” for the PR industry. I can’t say I I’m a fan of it. It reads like something a trade union might have produced, not the reflection of a serious industry that exists to serve its clients.
Here’s what Mr Traverse-Healy writes (bear in mind that propaganda used to mean to propagate something):
I do not believe that “propaganda” for causes and issues or “publicity” for products and services are per se public relations activities, although they might form part of an overall public relations programme; similarly advertising, promotion, press agentry, and communications. I believe there exist extra dimensions to the practice of professional public relations which must be present in almost equal measure before an initiative can be so termed and which grant it societal meaning and community worth. I submit that, in accord with the universally accepted principles of Freedom of Information and Expression, these ingredients are: truth, paramount concern for the public good and genuine dialogue.
Some of that is just standard business ethics – like telling the truth. But I have never heard a client say that the core objective of their PR campaign is enrich “societal meaning”.
No doubt this credo will appeal to those who are hostile to business. But I would contend two things: firstly, the pursuit of profit by business leads to the common good. Second, that the paramount concern of a PR consultant is to improve his client’s condition. To displace that paramount concern would be unethical.
The biggest problem with the PR industry is that too often in-house PR teams and external agencies fail to help those paying for PR to meet genuine business objectives – such as generating leads, raising awareness of the brand in front of relevant prospects, and improving reputation among buyers. Instead, there is considerable vagueness about what PR will achieve, with PR practitioners spouting nonsense about “two-way synchronous dialogue”. Combined with a failure in the majority of the industry to invest properly in skills, it’s hardly a surprise that many companies worry about the quality of PR personnel that they can hire.
It’s time for that to change.