The ‘Fame’ game

WarholAndy Warhol famously said that ‘In the future, eveybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes’.

Some argue that, in this statement, Warhol was commenting on the power of new media technologies, whereas others believe that it relates to Warhol critiquing the changing nature of ‘celebrity’ within society.

Personally – cynically perhaps – I fall into the latter camp whereby I believe that Andy Warhol’s famous quote predicted the nature of fame within our celebrity-saturated culture.

Love them or detest them though, it’s pretty clear that in modern life, celebrities wield significant power within modern society and, like any entertainment ‘product’, often make a major contribution to our economy. Public Relations can be argued as having had most profoundly influenced the rise of our ‘celebrity culture’ through not only assisting in the curation of individual’s personal brands, but also through cojointly benefiting brands like Nike and Virgin from their association with individual celebrities which share similar associations (or attributes the brand wants to adopt).

Although some may feel that celebrities are the ‘scourge’ of modern life, and admittedly I find it frustrating when I see that Kim Kardashian became famous after the release of a sex tape, or those from Jersey Shore, TOWIE etc gain fame from openly staged ‘reality’ shows. By no means do I feel that they haven’t worked to KEEP that fame (which can account for the increasingly volatile crises they have within their ‘reality’ storylines), but I find it hard to appreciate their ‘celebrity’ status when I have grown up believing that fame stems from an individual’s amazing ability, skill or personal accomplishment.

Saying this however, I believe that it’s far more common for celebrites today play a necessary and beneficial role in modern society by using their Legitimate, Referent and occasionally Expert power (as hypothesised by French & Raven, 1959) to bring people together, bridge divides between communities and cultures, and deliver valid public representations of private concerns that can direct media attention and generate public support for important causes.

British film, television, and stage actor, Sir Patrick Stewart (one of my favourite celebrities of all time and not just because his friendship with Ian McKellen), is an active campaigner against domestic violence for both Refuge and

Amnesty International, as well as an activist for the armed forces charity, Combat StressI love the fact that not only was he AMAZING in Star Trek: The Next Generation AND the X-Men film series, but he also recognises the power that he has as a white, male celebrity, and is using it as a force for positive change.

stewart

Another celebrity who is using their status to raise awareness and illicit change is acclaimed Indian actress, Mallika Sherawat, who (in the video below) defends her statement that Indian society is regressive towards women. Not only is she fiercely steadfast in raising the issues currently being faced within Indian culture, she is also passionate about the fact that (rather than damaging India’s reputation), in raising these issues, she is improving international awareness and stimulus for cultural change.

Looking at these celebrities and comparing their behaviour/actions to those of their reality-star counterparts has made me realise that the type of celebrity a person becomes is often influenced by the motivations behind their fame and their personal value-set.

This makes things harder for PR professionals as (particularly in the cases of reality stars) the associations and attributes asscribed to their personal brands is influenced by both their PR/Media representation but also their behaviour on the sets of ‘reality’ shows which thrive on fractious interpersonal situations and crises.

Maybe this is what Warhol was alluding to?

If you consider the idea that becoming a celebrity can be as easy as participating in a TV show, then doesn’t their ‘fame’ rely (at least in part) on their continuous presence on the show, or even of the show itself? Unless they learn to evolve the attributes connected to their personal brand beyond the intial pop-culture reference (by for example, using their fame for good or (at the very least) towards new avenues of associations), then once that starring reference falls out of favour, they too will fade.

Its an interesting challenge for PR Execs working on Celebs’ behalfs, and one which (no doubt) is going to be gaining increasing client investment over the next few years.

Are we oversharing on social media? #SOSM2015

Ever since the rise of social media, there has been a flare in stories of people being fired over their tweets, over their Instagram pictures, and over their Facebook posts.

A glance at the social networking privacy experiment weknowhwatyouredoing.com demonstrates the huge number of people who happily and publicly express their love for drugs, their hungover state or their hatred for their boss. Below is one of many examples (this one being particularly popular) which I feel clearly demonstrates both the power of social media – and the dangers of not being careful about what you post – to great effect.

Facebookoops

The rest is, as they say, history, ending (as you can see) with the swift firing of the employee in question.

Being online seems somehow to spur us to share aspects of our lives we would otherwise keep to ourselves but, until recently, few have looked into the reasons why.

Last year however, Jennifer Golbeck, Director of the Human-Computer Interaction Lab at the University of Maryland, outlined six reasons for our over-sharing and occasionally risky online behaviour as part of a feature for Psychology Today.

Firstly, “[People] begin to disassociate their online persona with their offline persona,” wrote Golbeck. This ‘Anonymity’ of course decreases the individual’s perceived risk of posting something they’d normally not say. This could be used for good reasons, such as for the pursuit of advice regarding a personal issue or concern on Reddit using a throwaway account (one which cannot be clearly linked to an offline individual), or for bad, as in the case of the rising number of social ‘Trolling’ cases, whereby an individual uses an online persona to harass and belittle someone else – often a celebrity, politician or public campaigner. Feminist cultural critic, Anita Sarkeesian, for example, was subject to death threats after releasing a new ‘Tropes VS Women in Video Games’ episode titled ‘Women as background decoration, part 2‘ last August.

This anonymity feeds into both Golbeck’s second reason of ‘Invisibility’, which allows people to feel they can say things because “the other person (or people) aren’t looking at the poster”; and third reason of ‘Filling in the other person’, as “missing verbal cues like tone and delivery as well as body language causes people to perceive the conversation as somehow “less real.”

Similarly, her fourth reason for oversharing also centres on the individual’s belief that ‘It’s not real’ as she hypothesises that “If we feel like we aren’t interacting in a real environment where there are real implications from our runawayactions, it can lead us to drop inhibitions.”

This belief can be exacerbated by the ‘Delayed communication’ of social media. Although electronic communication is incredibly fast (cue the term ‘instant messaging’), there is still opportunity to delay conversations, even if it’s just by pausing before responding.

This of course can result in lowered inhibitions as we may feel more free to overshare things that are personal because we can post it and then leave it, dealing with the reactions later. I know this was something I was personally guilty of during my teenage years, particularly when expressing my feelings to someone I liked.

FWhat I think we are aware of but choose to ignore is that everything we post on social media (and online in general) is added to our permanent digital record. Nothing is ever truly erasable from the internet and the last thing we would ever want (or ever consider for that matter) is that what we offhandedly post when we’re young (and perhaps a little bit stupid?) might come back and bite us in the butts when it comes to finding (and keeping) a job. Do we really want our personal brand (as discussed in this previous post) to be cluttered with depressing details of our past break-ups? or rammed with photo after photo of our drunken nights out?

inally, Golbeck proposes that social media’s perceived ‘Lack of authority’ plays a key part in why people might disassociate themselves from their online identity, causing them to blurt out something they would never would in real life, say, in front of an authority figure.

What I think we are aware of (but choose to ignore) is that everything we post on social media (and online in general) is added to our permanent digital record. Nothing is ever truly erasable from the internet and the last thing we would ever want (or ever consider for that matter) is that what we offhandedly post when we’re young (and perhaps a little bit stupid?) might come back and bite us in the butt when it comes to finding (and keeping) a job.

Do we really want our personal brand (as discussed in this previous post) to be cluttered with depressing details of our past break-ups? Do we really want future employers to see that during the years we were attending university (and beyond) our profiles are rammed full with photo after photo of our drunken nights out?

I certainly don’t!

Anyway, there certainly seems to be a lot of advice online about how to stop oversharing. To me though, it boils down to two key thoughts:

  • What does this post say about me?
  •  Do I really want people to be reading this?

I picture not only my mother reading it, but my partner, my boss, even just my friends. I picture meeting someone for the first time and their already knowing me because of something I’ve posted online, and their subsequent perception of me because of it. This could be great if they knew me from this blog, for example, or even from my radio appearances, but from a seemingly innocuous Facebook post or Tweet that I’ve probably forgotten I even posted? I’d rather not.

When you think ahead (particularly when you think of the worst case scenarios), oversharing becomes pretty scary, and what becomes scary is therefore pretty easy to avoid.

Do we suffer from too much tech?

I should probably confess that I (like many, I imagine) am unsure I could manage a complete disconnect from technology – much to the frustration of my partner.  However when you think about it, technology seems to permeate almost every aspect of modern life from:

Advances in digital growth (across the board) i.e. the internet….

…to industry or sector-specific advances…

…not to mention, all the manifestations found within social media…

Honestly, without going to the extreme extent of packing up what little non-tech reliant valuables I have (which I honestly think I could count on one hand) and moving to live in a cave in Nepal, I’m not entirely sure how it would be possible in this day and age to cut out modern technology entirely.

But is this such a bad thing?

Does modern society really suffer from too much technology?

This question has increasingly been a subject of debate over the last few years and recently, the issue has become the central feature to the latest animated music video of Stromae (one of the biggest stars in the french-speaking world), which has been beautifully directed by the acclaimed French filmmaker, Sylvain Chomet.

The video, which follows Stromae’s doppelgänger as he falls deeper and deeper into the social media abyss from an innocently taken selfie to a hunger for attention that can never be sated.

Surely though, falling into the social media abyss is dependent completely on the individual’s choice of content/media consumption? How many of us have used Facebook and Twitter to find other, like-minded people? To seek out fellow feminists, for example, or fans of the same music as us? To keep in touch with the people we’ve met in real life who otherwise we might never see again?

Maybe the case is that, if you consume poor quality, biased content and have a personality which is susceptible to craving social interaction and attention, then technology (and social media in particular) is a maze of traps waiting to happen.

What does this mean for PR?

Across the world, organisations are seeking greater engagement with their key publics, and PR (like many industries) has evolved to meet the changing needs and consumption habits of its target audiences. No longer is it feasible for organisations to operate within their own silos.

This of course poses a challenge for agencies and executives who now are stimulated to seeking new ways to break through the considerable noise and engage increasingly discerning and often cynical consumers.

No longer is it enough to merely use digital and social platforms to amplify and extend the reach of traditional messages, or repeat the same content across traditional and online platforms – however interesting the client may believe that content to be. To engage consumers online, marketers and PR Execs need to create a message which is both engaging, innovative most importantly human to connect.

Taking a back-seat, reactive approach to communications strategy does not grab the reader/viewer, let alone instil trust and brand loyalty. The future therefore is clear and can be defined by four combined approaches.

  • Integration
  • Personalisation
  • Proactive
  • Anticipatory

The question remains, are we brave enough to stop making the same silly mistakes, measure our digital effectiveness and become the profession we so strongly claim we are?

I think so; and what’s more, I think that the more we analyse and improve ourselves as a profession and instil these approaches into the habits and mindsets of those entering the industry, the stronger and more trusted Public relations will become, and the more trust will be shown to the technology which has provided us with these opportunities.

#GE2015. Britain’s ‘Social Media Election’

Sixty years since the 1955 ‘Television election’, 2015 is looking to be the year in which social media platforms will play a decisive role in reaching Britain’s electorate.

Although Marketing Magazine reports that the Conservatives are expected to “outspend Labour 3:1, opting for traditional media”, Labour is putting more emphasis on door-to-door canvassing due to Miliband’s desire to have “4 million face-to-face conversations”. This means that despite less financial spend, Labour is equally more likely to be harnessing the influence and engagement potential of digital and social platforms.

This I think has been perfectly demonstrated during tonight’s Sky/Channel 4 Leader debate between PM David Cameron and Labour leader, Ed Miliband, which generated a considerable amount of simultaneous discussion across Twitter via the amazing – if a tad long – hashtag #Battlefornumber10.

Tweets ranged from the tongue-in-cheek:

To the thoughtfully considered:

To the frustrated outrage in response to the behaviour of Kay Burnley and Jeremy Paxman:

The vital role of social media within politics is becoming ever more widely accepted, and now it is becoming increasingly obvious that whichever party is first to develop and implement a convincing social media strategy will have a distinct advantage this upcoming May. Sites such as Facebook have already been used successfully in the US as a way to engage with – and gather information from – potential voters, and in the UK, 24million people have signed up to the service. This of course gives political parties a pool of voters from which to fish (or more accurately target and engage) on a more personal and responsive level than anything offered via traditional forms.

According to some however, social media is “massively overrated”. Richard Huntington, group chief strategy officer at Saatchi & Saatchi, argues that “It’s great at preaching to the converted and distributing leaders’ speeches or policy points, but political messaging rarely escapes its bubble, unless it’s very amusing.” Personally I think I’d disagree with this.

Although ‘amusing’ posts and tweets (particularly tongue-in-cheek satire) create increased ‘talkability’ online (thus enhancing a post (and brand’s) potential reach), I think this view doesn’t take into consideration the age old adage that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’.

I mean, it’s no real coincidence that only 55% of MPs in the safest seats use Twitter compared to nearly 90% of MPs in the most marginal seats. Being in a ‘safe’ seat erases the need for an MP to engage in a two-way conversation with their electorate – which I honestly think is to the detriment of the political sphere as I’m wholeheartedly a supporter of the ways that engagement and communication builds trust and brand loyalty.

Personally, I think a multi-pronged/integrated campaign approach will work best. Combine the power of Ad agencies which deliver strong, strategic messages, with the considerable influence and attention generated by public relations, as well as the personalisation and responsiveness allowed by digital and social platforms, and I think you’re/your brand is in with a winning recipe for increased engagement, trust and loyalty from your audiences.

Overall I think tonight has given me a lot to think about…

I was planning on dedicating a considerable part of my dissertation this year to analysing @Nick_Clegg’s Twitter use in the month prior to the election using a range of frameworks, but I have to say that tonight’s debate raises a new potential focus…

Do I continue looking at the influence of (and need for) trust within political (ie. the Liberal Democrats) brands, or….

do I look at the role of and way that social media is being used in the run up to the election….

Marketing ‘vermin’: Strategies to combat a plague-ridden reputation

sellings rats
Rats.

Not the easiest animal to convince people make good pets, but ones which I’ve found in the four or so years of owning them to be the cheekiest, most playful and surprisingly easiest small pet you could own.

A quick list of their benefits can include:

  1. Unlike Hamsters, Degus and Chinchillas, they’re not nocturnal and so will be awake when you are.
  2. Personality-wise they are a cross between a dog (playful, attentive, loyal) and a cat (wants cuddles/to be stroked, relaxed)
  3. Each rat has their own individual personality that can be developed depending on how you respond/act with them.
  4. Once you’ve gained their trust, they will consistently want your attention/to play/be stroked.
  5. They are very food-orientated as a species. No pet meets ‘the way to your heart is through your stomach’ mantra more than a rat.
  6. They are as clean as cats, especially if you litter-train them.
  7. They eat (or will at least try) pretty much anything (though high fat diet or citrus foods will have negative health effects).
  8. They grind their teeth together when happy (bruxing) and (when really happy/relaxed) they boggle their eyes.
  9. They’re both friendly and independent so bought in pairs or a trio, they will play with themselves when you’re doing other things.
  10. They are ridiculously intelligent. Check out the video below and see some of the many tricks you can teach them.

But, admitting to owning rats as pets does come with some interesting (and occasionally offensive) stereotypes – mainly born out of fear or even sheer ignorance.

rat

  • Assuming my home is filthy because of their presence?
  • Assuming they carry diseases like rabies and the plague (yes, as in the bubonic plague…which was carried by fleas.. not rats..)
  • I even had one classmate warn me that they could escape and attack me and my partner…

Don’t get me wrong, I can semi-understand why some people might find the tails off-putting, or why some may not like the threat of being bitten; but then saying that, you have a threat of being bitten by any pet if you hurt/upset it enough and the tails… well they’re easy to get used to after a while.

My original and aptly-named ‘Rat Pack’ consisted of five boys which I semi-rescued from a woman living in Sheffield (luckily for me she agreed to deliver them on the understanding that I’d pay petrol costs). Ranging in age and temperament from about 6 months and almost feral (never been handled) to approximately a year and a half year old love-bug, they quickly stole my heart, particularly after one of them suffered a stroke/severe fall shortly after arriving and so spent three days cuddled in my pocket so I could feed him medicine mixed in yoghurt every two hours.

The downside to caring for rats (or any rodent) however, is their short lifespan which averages at about 2-3 years, so my original rat pack are now all what is known as ‘over the rainbow bridge’ ie) rattie heaven.

Houdini (left) and Pebble. My current babies.

Houdini (left) and Pebble. My current babies.

I do however currently have a very licky, very attention-seeking, very food-orientated pair of boys whose faces I couldn’t resist when visiting Pets at Home last November.

*Saying that, I really do not recommend purchasing any small animal from a Pet store, particularly rats, due to the high risk of health or temperament issues that come from those environments – many pet store rats are bred and treated as snake food. Seriously, if you’re a novice or don’t want to risk having to trust train them, buy from trusted breeders; you’ll be saving yourself a lot of stress and hassle.

Very quickly, Houdini and Pebble came home to live – Pebble, named for the colour of his coat and the way he often sleeps (curled up in a ball as if about to do a forward roll), and Houdini who came by his name for the ridiculous speed in which he managed to escape not one but three of the cases I was expected to carry him home in.

Winning over the hearts of those who are afraid or flat-out dislike rats however, is not an easy task. Historically they’ve been a species cursed with a bad reputation, and counteracting the ‘plague-ridden, aggressive, you-will-die’ stereotype is often a task that meets a lot of resistance. People are comfortable in their own world view and questioning that/showing them that a belief/fear that many have held since childhood is false, isn’t always appreciated unless approached with care.

There are five key strategies that I have tried to take in building and defending ratty reputations. These are:

1. Be authoritative

Communicating strongly and knowledgeably goes a long way to making everyone else believe you understand what you’re talking about and that you’re the leader and authority in your area. Conveying your message with powerful, emotive words as well as with conviction will make you more believable and will make your audience more receptive to your message.

2. Be specific

Your message needs to be clear and easily conveyed. In this case, that’s pretty easy given the simplicity of both the subject and the stance ie) ‘Rat’s are awesome and everyone should love them!’, but in most cases, issues and brands can have more complex, more multi-layered connotations and thus need focused and specific communications to be believed by the recipient audience. It’s no good telling someone how great rats are if you can’t explain to the person why you like them and what makes them a good pet.

3. Be consistent

Being consistent when showing pictures and videos that contest the ‘ewwww gross’ mentality reinforces the message and shows people how loving and playful rats truly are without overcomplicating or confusing the issue.

4. Be honest

Every pet (and brand for that matter) has annoying quirks and habits. Being honest about them (they chew anything rubbery or wooden, and will use your clothes to make nests given half the chance) and admitting the downsides (they can smell if not cleaned regularly) increases your credibility and means that when you talk about the good things, you’re more likely to be believed. Integrity goes a long way after all.

5. Be relentless

Commit yourself to getting the positive message out there. People are inundated with a myriad of messages each day and when it comes to rats – lets be honest – the vast majority are not going to be positive ones. It’s not only critical therefore that you try to stand out amongst the static but equally that you are not forgotten. Follow up with people you’ve had past discussions with to reinforce not only your message but also the relationships you are building.

Overall, I’ve had a lot of success.

I mean it’s hard for people to retain the belief in the evil/disgusting/diseased stereotype when they are faced with the grabby-handed puppy eyes of two very adorable fluffballs.

There are of course going to be a small percentage of people whose opinions will be immovably negative. The RepTrak Alignment Monitor, developed by Cees van Riel for The Reputation Institute, measure employee alignment and contribution to the objectives and performance of an organisation. It suggests that although 10% of employees will automatically respond positively to change and 70% respond given adequate persuasion, 20% will remain consistently negative in their response.

The key I think is making sure to reinforce the positive messages I’m promoting to the 80% majority whilst never giving up on winning over that remaining stubborn 20% to my way of thinking – after all, their stubbornness gives me plenty of opportunities for rodent evangelism on a personal one-on-one basis.

From Russia with “love”

Russian Chocolatiers: Konfael have taken wooing your loved one a step further than most this year by celebrating its ‘Women’s Day’ with confectionery with a particularly ‘political’ flavour, satirically poking fun at Western sanctions against Russia over its armed intervention in Ukraine

_81128842_chocsThe selection boxes – adorned with famous Soviet-era-styled propaganda posters – are stylised to include biting couplets (such as “Don’t mouth off, gentlefolk dear/That Obama’s bound to hear!” blazoned beneath the image of a World War II female factory worker warning against gossip), and patriotic slogans like “For Western currency we have no need/A golden ruble – at full speed!” – used to emphasise the perceived power of Russia’s resource-based economy.

A man who needs no shirt

He is a man who needs no shirt.

One box (my favourite example)  features the verse “To be king, when all are ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’/You need a pair of rock-hard nuts” below a photograph of President Putin in sunglasses. This being the same man whose last presidential campaign featured an advertisement which saw a young Russian female visit a fortune-teller who (after being asked to reveal the girl’s “destiny”) informs the girl that her “first time” will be with the presidential candidate as she turns the card revealing Putin’s image.

Regardless on my distaste for Putin’s presidency (his KGB background is the least of my concerns despite perhaps explaining the mentality behind his foreign policy), its hard not to respect a leader who seems to centre a considerable amount of his party’s PR and advertising around how fabulously ‘manly’ he is.

Anyway, Konfael’s marketing strategy has resulted in a mixed response, appearing to leave the majority of its social media respondents with a bad taste in their mouths. Although a few users commented with their own witty comebacks (like Jonathan Grainger’s: “Confael’s Chocolates trigger Odium / Warning: May Contain Polonium!”), many more were disgusted at the brands politicising, some of whose statements I’ve listed below:

Anna Pavlova: “Konfael – I often took you gifts to kindergarten and school for children and teachers. So, our parent committees now [have to] find other gifts. Think next time [with] your head.”

Tatiana Glezer: “I have no words. Stupid, vulgar and beats all desire to buy your products.”

Andrey Lavrov “Just wondering, have you got a real Putinism-brain on the basis of television propaganda, or are you just such creatures that consciously decided to connect to the propaganda for the sake of an extra penny for your Business?”

It’s clear to see how Konfael has tried to tap into Russia’s internationally-famed nationalism, and, in the face of the country’s current political and economic concerns, it’s a little understandable as to why they’ve taken this approach. However, the brand has clearly not done a vast amount of market research prior to developing this product, and thus its request for feedback on its Facebook page (a platform that actively connects people across the world) was probably the first step in why the range’s launch has backfired so badly.

Politics is known for being a tricky and polarising topic for discussion at the best of times, and Russia’s recent actions have generated an increased level of drama and speculation across the world… Asking for feedback on an internationally open forum and for a product that not only raises issues in the country’s international standing (the version belittling regular Kremlin hate-figure, Jen Psaki (US State Department spokeswoman) is particularly callous) but also issues WITHIN its borders (judging from the numerous references to Soveit-nostalgia for gulags and pickled herring) is therefore probably not the smartest marketing ploy…

Hacks Vs Flaks: Are we really so different?

The relationship between journalist and PR officer is one of the most valuable – but often one of the most difficult – to foster and maintain. For a long time there has been a sort of “love/hate relationship” between the two professions, with journalists often calling publicists “flacks” and publicists calling journalists “hacks” – albeit rarely in earshot of one another.

I know that during my time studying Journalism (and International Relations) for my Bachelors degree, lecturers (who were invariably ex or freelance journalists themselves) would often teasingly refer to the public relations industry as “the dark side of Journalism”, a reputation which has in no way benefited from the widely reported actions of those such as Max Clifford (both within PR and within his personal life). I’ll admit that this reputation did initially put me in mind of a certain sci-fi film trilogy from the 70’s and 80’s (the ‘prequels’ do not count), but today I ask, “Are we really so different?”

Honestly, I can see where some journalists with this viewpoint might be coming from. After all, in ‘Propaganda’, Edward Bernays is famously quoted as saying “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organised habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are moulded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”

"PR, I AM your father"

“PR, I AM your father”

Thought to be one of, if not THE, founding father of public relations, Bernays’ statement does not paint a particularly good portrait, particularly when trying to refute the bad PR that PR has experienced. Personally though, I think there are two ways of looking at public relations.

The CIPR (also known as the Chartered Institute for Public Relations) defines public relations as being a discipline focused on managing reputation with the intention of “earning understanding and support, and influencing opinion and behaviour”. Its focus is clear in its attempt to re-imagine PR as a respected, ethical and rigorous profession – something which has long been an aim of the organisation.

The PRCA (Public Relations Consultants Association) on the other hand, whilst equally stating that “Public relations is all about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you”, states that the practice is predominantly “used to gain trust and understanding between an organisation and its various stakeholders.” This (to me at least) is more suggestive of the PRCA’s focus on the industry as practice rather than as a profession.

But, regardless of whether you consider PR as a profession or a practice, is there really so much difference between the industry and journalism? Especially now that so many hacks and flaks are sitting on the fence and dipping in and out of both Journalism and PR throughout their careers?

Sheldon Rampton, co-author of “Toxic Sludge Is Good For You! Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry” and research director of PR Watch, stated in 2007 that “In a lot of ways, P.R. people do the legwork for journalists — feeding them stories and sources, and doing research.” With the growth of social media and the subsequent changing role of journalists as ‘gatekeepers’, brands are now more able than ever to create their own content which can then be pitched to increasing numbers of niche and mainstream publications in real-time. This ties in to Bernays’ view that “modern business must have its finger continuously on the public pulse. It must understand the changes in the public mind and be prepared to interpret itself fairly and eloquently to changing opinion” – a view which, to me, sums up the precise point of what PR (when engaging with journalists) allows its clients (and the journalists themselves) to do.

Instead of joining “the dark side”, to me, public relations and journalism are two sides of the same coin. Perhaps it is my optimism showing, but the biggest difference I can so far see on the surface of each industry (so far at least), appears to be the presence or lack thereof of bias within a press release and/or article. I know there’s FAR more to both professions than this but I genuinely see the two as mirrors rather than warring factions.

Therefore, perhaps rather than the love/hate/name-calling relationship PR executives and journalists have at present, they could instead recognise that their relationship is one which is symbiotic in nature, and that both professions have qualities to offer and, in cases of bad practice, negative aspects that need to be managed.

For me, Bernays said this best when he stated: “It is asked whether, in fact, the leader makes propaganda, or whether propaganda makes the leader. There is a widespread impression that a good press agent can puff up a nobody into a great man. The answer is the same as that made to the old query as to whether the newspaper makes public opinion or whether public opinion makes the newspaper. There has to be fertile ground for the leader and the idea to fall on. But the leader also has to have some vital seed to sow.”

Bluntly put, “A mutual need has to exist before either [profession] can become positively effective. Propaganda [or public relations] is of no use to the politician[/brand/organisation] unless he[/they] has[ve] something to say which the public, consciously or unconsciously, wants to hear.”

Make love, not war, guys. We’ve all got something to offer.