‘Why would you want a career where everybody hates you’: PR’s PR problem

Photograph & Edit - Lucy Hayball, 2017

Ah, this chestnut. I’ve been waiting to write this post for a while. After revising for an exam about spin doctoring, and seeing conversations on Twitter, I decided it was time.

Public Relations is ‘one of those’ degrees which nobody knows anything about or they have the completely wrong idea of what it is. It is just the way it is.

A couple of months ago, I was having a conversation with somebody about where I study, what and why. A totally innocent conversation you can imagine….until I mention the words ‘Public Relations’. He then responds with ‘Why would you want a career where everybody hates you?’ followed by a short silence where I attempted to think of the most diplomatic answer. This isn’t the first time I have had comments like this. According to many people, I am spending £9,000 a year and devoting four years of my life to learn how to lie. Oh and I forgot ‘It’s just media isn’t it? Easy stuff then’. You know what, this degree business is beginning to sound easy. (I know that this is another post about my degree but I felt that it was needed..!)

But this view is so wrong. So I went to my trusty source, PR Week to see what others thought (use the links for the articles!).

So many people see Public Relations purely as ‘spin’ and don’t look beyond what it is now. Yes, Public Relations in the past has been used for spin, but that is in the past. Colin Byrne said that Public Relations was used to manipulate opinion during the 1990’s. Although, he says that this has largely changed now and the industry is different. During the 1990’s, big names in the industry and those in power were all involved in spin and this has tarnished PR’s reputation. PR involves reputation, yet its own reputation isn’t the best.

Because of this misconception, Scott Wilson stated that merely the phrase ‘PR’ is where the issue lies. Hearing Public Relations makes you think of all the spin, all of the media relations and publicity. Not the good that it does, but the negative past.

So why does this phrase and connotation still exist? The worst spin was in the 1990’s and it’s now 2017?! Scott Wilson asked why PR is still being defined by these stereotypes. The kind of stereotypes seen in Sex and the City and Absolutely Fabulous. He said that they are “characterisation” which he doesn’t see in people currently working in the industry. So why haven’t we dropped phrases like ‘spin’ for connotations to PR? Alan Edwards suggested that ‘spin’ puts an idea into public’s heads that PR is dishonest when really, PR is an industry which acts in a way that presents its clients well without lying to the audiences.

But even after all of this, does it actually matter what the general public think of PR? Does it matter that the person I spoke to thinks that way? Research found that these negative opinions are not based on knowledge, rather it was found that “only 15 percent admit to ever having met a PR person”. This makes me think, are the media creating and fuelling stereotypes about this industry? Are these stereotypes being taken from the media and not even questioned? Or are the public not able to accept the modern PR?

Alison Clarke argued that PR has come a long way and the “odd stereotype or the odd mildly amusing piece in the media or on TV” shouldn’t be bothered about. PR can be used in so many amazing ways and it is about time that the stereotypes disappeared.

As an industry, it should stand tall and be proud of what it knows it stands for.



To view the posts referred to please visit: http://www.prweek.com/article/1182362/industry-speaks-pr-improve-its-reputation http://www.prweek.com/article/1290909/prs-pr-problem-industry-improve-its-image-public


  1. February 3, 2017 / 10:34 am

    It’s a good question – and an especially good post.

    Can I suggest one answer – and it doesn’t require you (us) to be loved.

    Do we love lawyers? Not really, or not until they help us out of a hole professionally. Yet lawyers take satisfaction from the principle that a society governed by laws is a better place for everyone. So we love the principle of the rule of law.

    Do we love PR practitioners? Of course not. But are they needed? It certainly seems so (just like lawyers, you need them in the bad times more than you need them in the good times).

    Lawyers (barristers) are not expected to lie, though they have a professional duty to make the best case for their clients. Just like PR practitioners.

    What’s the PR equivalent of the rule of law? Perhaps a society with access to information and space to debate issues (for more on the public/persuasive sphere, read Bournemouth PR lecturer Kevin Moloney).

    • Lucy
      February 10, 2017 / 10:39 am

      That is such a valuable point, Richard. I think that it links back to the misunderstanding of the industry. People don’t realise the need for PRP’s. As you say, we don’t love lawyers but we need them. I have never thought about the similarity between PR and the law. It definitely raises a question as to what is the rule of law for PR. I do think it is about access to information considering how big social media is now. We have space now to debate issues with people from across the world. I will have a think as to what I think PR’s equivalent of the law is. That is a very interesting topic!!

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