Requiem for PR

Is PR dead or at least on life support?

Some people seem to think so. If you dig a layer or two down into the earlier post about new roles for blogs you get to some interesting links to discussions going on among journalists and media types about the state of public communications. A fella by the name of Jay Rosen, Chair of the Dept. of Journalism at NYU, recently made the following provocative statement:

I think public relations should first understand that to the extent that its art is a form of “spin”–whether it’s reasonable spin, accepted spin, good spin, bad spin, terrible spin–it is selling a service for which there is less and less value, and less mind is paid to it. Spin was possible in the era of few-to-many media, and a small number of gatekeepers who could be spun.

There are fewer who listen (or have to listen) and more who hear only dull propaganda, witless repetition, one of the many forms of mindlessness to which citizens are subjected. Spin is also comedy to Americans, and John Stewart speaks with authority on it. PR does not because it believes, on the whole, in some right to spin– all exceptions cheerfully granted. Plus, there’s what Doc Searls says to all the “pound the message home” pros, in any field: there is no demand for messages. Factor that in if you want a bright future in any media field.

Amen to that.

Okay, in the spirit of full disclosure, the remark was made in the context of a longer interview that you should read, but it’s a pretty pointed statement. It’s not just the spin-doctors that are in question but the corporations and organizations that employ them. Just how credible are public communications that have all the telltale signs of professional grooming and polishing? I think Rosen said it—less and less. Whether it’s advertising, press conferences, “spokespersons,” handlers, consultants, etc., the public is abundantly aware that for the most part institutional messaging is designed to influence, not to inform or to clarify. You’re left with the question, “So what is it you’re not telling me?”

Seems to me there is a hunger for truth and reality in communication. When it’s lacking because the communication that’s offered is only part of the story—the favorable part—there isn’t trust or credibility. Some organizations are experimenting with blogging with the public, but if the intent is not there to communicate candidly then it’s pointless.