Here is an excerpt:
“Show me a PR person who is ‘accurate’ and ‘truthful,’ and I’ll show you a PR person who is unemployed. The reason companies or governments hire oodles of PR people is because PR people are trained to be slickly untruthful or half-truthful.”
Some public relations practitioners have replied to this article by attesting to their records of honesty. I invite you to post a comment to Cohen’s article. Please cross-post your response in a comment to this blog post.
Here is the comment that I posted:
I invite you to reconsider your condemnation of the entire public relations profession.
In my experience as a public relations professor and former practitioner, I teach my students to tell the truth, not to lie.
A previous comment on this post that claims that perhaps practitioners unknowingly lied is both condescending and a poor excuse to account for the other comments in which practitioners attest to their records of telling the truth.
Long-term relationships depend on cultivating trust, which means that lying is out of the question.
I challenge you to read “Gaining Influence in Public Relations” by Bruce Berger and Bryan Reber and report back to your readers about whether you have changed your position.
The book contains survey and interview data about practitioners’ attempts to convince their organizations to “do the right thing.”
The book also shares strategies with readers for engaging in activism to persuade organizations to act ethically.
The last part of the book contains a public relations manifesto. Here is the first paragraph:
“I am not a flack, a shill, a barker, a hustler, or a spinner. I do not stonewall, distort language, construct false images, or blindly follow directions in the interest of my organization or its leaders. I am a public relations professional, and what I do is serve my organization, society, and profession as a communicator, professional, advocate and activist.”
Also, I would like to propose the idea of having the next PRSA Bateman client be the public relations profession.
Update: June 2, 2008
Andrew Cohen wrote a response to the comments he received. He backpedaled, saying that he did not mean that the entire public relations industry lies; however, he also asserted that rather than pointing the finger at Scott McClellan for violating PRSA’s ethics code, we should be reflecting on the misdeeds of our industry and how we might restore public faith.
However, sharply responding to Cohen’s article is one way that practitioners are restoring public faith. Of course, more efforts are needed. Nevertheless, it is surprising that he chastised public relations practitioners’ responses to his lambasting. For a preliminary discussion of other ways to restore public faith in public relations, see Shel Holtz’s discussion and the comments here.