Friday, January 28, 2011

What is Public Relations

Picked up from the CoSIDA weekly newsletter, Rosanna Fisk writing about a counter-info project of PRSA on Image versus Substance, specifically taking on The Economist for pot shots at the growth of PR related hiring and the decline of journalism positions -- thus in turn leading to the end of Western civilization. Fisk's Tweetaway:

"public relations is not about image; it’s about reputation, trust and credibility. Advertising . . . is about image—the visual, the look, the controlled viewpoint. "

Interesting point, although one might be hard pressed to convince lay persons that image isn't a key part of PR. I get where she is going, and I've argued for some time that we have growing in the near term is branded journalism.

Yes, technically a sports information contact who is writing for the institution's website and then sending that information off to another media outlet as a "press release" is operating as a PR person. But what Fisk is really going for in her quote applies best there. If you're serving as the "reporter" of events, to use Fisk's phrase, your "reputation, trust and credibility" is wrapped up in how that story is written. If it is filled with "happy talk" and makes too much effort to downplay negative aspects of an event, it begins immediate distrust and damage to the reputation of both the individual writer and the institution.

I do agree with Fisk -- that reputation takes years to build. What I caution here, you can throw it away with a few stories. This is particularly apparent in sports, where it seems there is a little less tolerance for the practice of spin from politics. Fewer colleges or universities continue the practice of not writing stories about losses -- the first and most obvious way to undermine. Not leading with the result is also fading. We can't hide from defeat. We can explain it -- taking care to not look too much like excuse-making.

I feel for the journalists, particularly at the local and non-revenue sport level. They are being cut left and right as the media outlets try to maximize their profit centers (and overlook the Long Tail market). People will seek out the information and fill the void. If branded journalism operations try to be more like the myth that The Economist is perpetuating, the readers will head to the friends and neighbors social media network -- which by the way they are more inclined to believe than either the institution or the media.

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