Thursday, February 02, 2012

Shame on the New York Times

It is distressing that a publication with the stature of The New York Times would slam the term “public relations” as a pejorative at best and a phony empty suit at worst…especially in a day when it is defined in Webster’s Dictionary, Wikipedia devotes pages to it, and organizations spend millions on it.

In referring to President Obama’s new task force, the Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group, designed to investigate abusive practices in the mortgage industry, the newspaper published Gretchen Morgenson’s column, in which she writes: “Some greeted this new task force…with skepticism. It is an election year…and many might wonder if this [new task force] is just a public-relations response to the outrage against [those who] almost wrecked the economy.”

Would The New York Times refer to its own aggressive public relations program as superficial? Even if the Working Group were just a shell, why not call a spade a spade, as opposed to insulting an industry that the newspaper itself depends upon to bring it a percentage of its news and some of its revenues? Further, The Times recently ran an article on the definition of public relations being updated to take the internet into account. Isn’t this two-faced?

Webster’s Dictionary defines public relations as “the business of inducing the public to have understanding for or goodwill toward a person, firm or institution.” Wikipedia offers several definitions, among them, “public relations is the practice of managing the flow of information between an organization and its publics.” Another: “the relationship between an organization and its stakeholders.”

During his debates with Senator Stephen Douglas in 1858, Abraham Lincoln acknowledged the importance of public relations when he said, “Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed.” He didn’t just preach, he practiced. He was one of the first presidents to use tools of our profession to shape public sentiment.

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Blogger Richard Newman said...

Great take on something too many PR people think is "delicate".

Thursday, February 02, 2012 6:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Sean Dougherty said...

Well said, Ken. We in the industry can't let The New York Times and others turn public relations into shorthand for deception.

I always tell friends with that impression that if we could just make stuff up, this job would be easy. Because we have to communicate facts, it isn't.

Friday, February 03, 2012 9:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When PR is mixed with politics via a smooth talking justification for spending other people's money then you know it is nothing more than superficial manipulation of particular interest groups within the masses.

Corporate PR can also be skin deep manipulation of information.

It is why corporations are so worried about the harms to their brands by the negative tweets of the masses.

PR has become a game. Definitions change over time and given the nature of modern-day PR (ie a game) then a negative connotation of this term is justifiable and to be expected.

Saturday, February 04, 2012 7:57:00 PM  
Anonymous steven cody said...

A superb analysis as always, Ken. But, alas, we're waging a losing battle in demanding respect for, and understanding of the words public relations. I addressed this very subject in weekly Inc. Magazine column last week. The average Joe thinks PR is either party planning, lobbying or party planning. While one should expect more of a Times reporter, the fact is Hollywood continues to depict our profession in negative, stereotypical ways. And, our. Industry trade groups and media do little, if anything, to address the subject.

Monday, February 06, 2012 6:58:00 AM  

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