Sunday, February 13, 2005

Ouch: Spinning Frenzy: P.R.'s Bad Press

Everyone in public relations will be talking about this this article in today's New York Times:

Spinning Frenzy: P.R.'s Bad Press

Unlike the recent story in The Economist about Robert Scoble, this article by Timothy O'Brien captures all the complexities of public relations. Unlike the bulk of the population, Mr. O'Brien knows what we do and how we do it.

This article is a fair and balanced and damning assessment of the whole Ketchum pundit payola scandal.

And O'Brien makes the point that we here in the PR blogging community have been making all along:

"Since Omnicom made this statement, it and Ketchum have remained silent, a risky tactic given that public relations wisdom traditionally holds that staying quiet during a crisis only prolongs media scrutiny and creates an appearance of culpability.

'They should have come clean right away and not tried to pin all of this on Williams,' said Paul A. Argenti, a professor of corporate communications at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. 'It's an example of the same kind of bad advice they give their clients every day.'"

Ouch.

Jack O'Dwyer, as well, gets in a good shot:

"Yet it is Ketchum's imbroglio with Mr. Williams and the Education Department that seems to have struck a particularly indignant nerve among some longtime public relations analysts. 'This is the Three Mile Island of the P.R. business,' said Jack O'Dwyer, a public relations gadfly in New York who heads a research firm and publishes a newsletter bearing his name. 'The industry began selling its soul when it sold out to these advertising companies because the public relations business should be about the truth, not about sales.'"

For me, the most enlightening part of this article was the discussion on the struggle for the soul of PR in almost Star Warsian terms of The Dark Side and The Force:

"In the 1920's, Edward Bernays, a relative of Sigmund Freud, led publicists into new waters by emphasizing psychological research and advocating the use of seemingly objective third-party authorities to sway public opinion. He professionalized the business while introducing other new forms of manipulation, like establishing bogus front groups to promote the benefits of smoking.

"Arthur Page, an in-house public relations adviser to ATandT from the 1920's through the 1940's, embraced the concept of good corporate citizenship and pushed ATandT to be open and honest in its press dealings. The tension between proponents of Bernays-like manipulation and Page-style transparency has existed in the business ever since."

May The Force be with us.

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