Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Another Black Eye for the PRSA

As some of you may know, The Public Relations Society of America decided to cancel this year's annual conference due to Hurricane Wilma. The decision wasn't surprising, and was really the only sensible thing to do in light of the dangers the hurricane posed.

With the decision behind them, the PRSA sent out a statement that included a refund policy requiring anyone asking for refunds to write a letter detailing why they weren't able to attend the conference. Needless to say that demand set a lot of people off, especially given the fact that an organization whose members often offer counsel in crisis communications, sent it out. To everyone but the PRSA, giving refunds automatically was just as much a given as the decision to cancel.

It seems these days that the PRSA is increasingly unconcerned with the image it generates among not only people in the profession, but among its members as a whole. This policy has the potential to generate even more anger from those who have maintained for a long time that it needs to be more aggressive in formulating policies on such things as proper use of video news releases (VNRs) and writing standards governing how PR agencies should interact with government agencies.

It continues to amaze me how a professional organization such as the PRSA could be so blissfully unaware of the concerns of its members and their profession. Instead they continue behaving as a monopoly of sorts that operates with a "love it or leave it" mentality. Unfortunately for them, many people already have.

Friday, October 14, 2005

More PR/Publicity Confusion

Perhaps no two terms are more confused than public relations and publicity. Most people outside the industry consider them one in the same, even though there are many substantial differences between the two.

Although opinions on just what those differences are vary, generally publicists work on behalf of an individual or a group of individuals and are responsible for managing their reputation. That can mean both getting them into The New York Post's Page Six column or keeping them out of it.

Conversely, public relations often involves the representation of companies rather than individuals directly. That involves conventional media relations techniques, but can also mean setting up speaking engagements, seminars or even publishing a newsletter.

In the Oct. 14 edition of The New York Times, an article advises students considering a career in PR to get accustomed to handing out "booze and bling." I, and I dare say the vast majority of my professional colleagues, have never engaged in the practice of handing either either booze or bling. We also don't have to spend years cultivating celebrity types to get clients coverage.

No, real PR involves going to well-known outlets and well-respected reporters with real information that the public wants to read. This can consists of things like a company launching a service or product that will be beneficial to many, but it can also be having a well-known attorney tell readers about an impending law change that will affect a large group.

To be sure, like every profession, the PR industry engages in a lot of things that causes it to get a bad rap. But, having worked as a journalist for a decade, I can also say wholeheartedly journalism does the same thing on occasion. That doesn't mean that people in either industry are generally bad at their jobs; it means they unfortunately pay a heavy price on occasion for the sins of a very, very small number of people.

Just as the vast majority of journalists combat that by doing solid reporting and editing and filling a very valuable role in society, I also do that by giving those very same individuals news that they, and their readers, will find useful. As long as the majority in both professions do this, both are providing a valuable service.