PR pro: It’s time to regulate the PR industry

The public likes to brand PR practitioners as unethical ‘spin doctors.’ Is there a way for PRs to reverse this negative perception?


Have I mentioned that spin sucks?

No? Huh. Well, spin sucks.

This is particularly true in the case of The Guardian, which just published a blog post titled, “Have You Ever Been Lied to By a PR?” The Guardian ran this article in response to a Press-Gazette blog post with the same title.

The gist of the article is all PR professionals—at least in the United Kingdom, though the article makes mention to all of us—are liars. Or at the very least, we stretch the truth. He wrote:

“In my experience, PRs have not lied but several of them have been extremely economical with the truth. And some have spun negatives into positives with a breathtakingly cavalier attitude towards the reality.”

The Guardian isn’t the only news outlet to categorize us this way. When The New York Times reported on the new PR definition, it used the meta description, “People submitted 927 proposals in an effort to update the definition of public relations for an age of social media and spin doctors.”

Spin Sucks Pro‘s vision is to change the perception of the industry through daily professional development and education, but it’s an uphill battle when national—and international—media use their experiences with a handful of unethical PR professionals to perpetuate the perception we’re all liars, thieves and spin doctors.

Perhaps part of the reason is our industry organizations—PRSA, IABC, CIPR, CPRS, IPRA, etc.—don’t regulate the industry. The barrier to entry is extremely low. If someone wants to become a PR pro, no one requires him to test, take boards or prove he knows what he’s doing.

We all can just open shop or join a company and call ourselves PR professionals.

I was astounded last May when Burson Marsteller worked with Facebook to smear Google. Burson Marsteller is one of the biggest and best agencies in the world, and we know Harold Burson wouldn’t approve.

I called my friends at PRSA and asked why they weren’t doing anything about it. After all, we’re supposed to work within the code of ethics in our contracts, client work, and dealings with the public—which also includes media.

It turns out PRSA is a membership organization, which means it exists to serve its members. It has no authority to punish or remove professionals from the industry.

Yes, there are some unethical PR professionals, but the PR industry isn’t alone. There are unethical people in every profession. Why does the public paint our industry in such a poor light all the time?

It’s time to regulate the industry. It seems to be the only way we can manage our own reputations.

Gini Dietrich is founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, Inc. A version of this article originally ran on Spin Sucks.

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Topics: PR

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