Another programme and another vague and dismissive definition of PR. I was channel hopping the other day when Come Dine with Me caught my eye. (Don’t judge me for that!) On it was a woman who was said to work in PR according to the programme blurb. When she was asked the answer was sort of marketing, promotion and it left the fellow diners confused about what exactly she did.
It isn’t the first time or the only time that PR has been poorly defined within both factual and fictional programmes. Like many, I cringe at the portrayal of PR within programmes such as Absolutely Fabulous and remember shouting at the television during an episode of The Bill where a police press officer appeared. So it made me wonder why we are so misunderstood as an industry? How can young people be encouraged to pursue it as a career if they don’t actually know what it is?
Perhaps the starting point is a definition that is universally accepted and that marks PR out from marketing and other forms of communication. From that point we can then find examples of the work that others will understand and use them to illustrate what we do. I am frustrated at having to go into long explanations to try and help people understand what we do. I refuse to be the woman on Come Dine with Me who can’t simply talk about the work she does.
This gap is what allows the negative narrative about ‘spin doctors’ and being involved in dark arts to prevail. It is much easier for people to label PR as manipulative acts that are aimed at hiding problems and presenting a glossy truth. You can’t effectively tackle this by a full on assault. Instead it needs to be a consistent programme of explanation. And this is something that I am going to start this weekend.
Whenever I meet someone and they ask me what I do, I am not going to change the subject to avoid a complicated discussion. Instead, I am going to be really clear about how I help businesses and organisations facing a crisis. I will explain how I have been able to support them to more effectively managing difficult circumstances. And this will be the start. The only way we can banish the stereotypes we are used to hearing is to present an accurate picture.
People have a rough idea what an accountant, lawyer or IT expert will do. They may not understand the detail but they have have a frame of reference. That is what we need to provide and now, after dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, we have great examples that can bring the explanations to life. Let’s pledge to make sure we don’t shy away from the question ‘what do you do?’ and instead we bring the explanation to life.