April 26, 2011 | cwinters

Does the Term “Public Relations” Have a Reputation Problem? Three things that can change the reputation of PR for the better.

Shakespeare said a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Can the same be true for the term public relations? If you follow the industry blogs at all, over the past few days there has been some interesting conversation about the term public relations v. the term communications – which one is narrower? Which one is broader? Which one better describes what we do? Most of the pundits seem to agree that public relations, when done well, is more than communications – communications is one just one facet of public relations. Others advocate for a different term entirely – like reputation management.

The fact that there is this much debate suggests that the term public relations – too often cast as “spin” and suggestive of manipulation or downright dishonesty – has a reputation problem. And that problem is usually based on a bad experience someone has had with a PR firm. Like every relationship, agency-client relationships begin with baggage – of the agencies that pulled a bait and switch, or failed to deliver – of the clients who put their team in a compromising position with a journalist or an industry association. This isn’t something that can be changed by changing our vernacular.

So what’s the solution?

1. Know your client’s baggage and their organizational attitudes about PR. If offering a communications strategy (vs. a PR Plan) is the path to building consensus, securing budget and getting the opportunity to demonstrate the value of PR, so be it.

2. Practice your profession with integrity. Provide your best advice. Be honest and transparent in all you do for your client, and on your client’s behalf.

3. Think holistically, broadly and strategically. Provide integrated programs that meet your client’s business needs. Sometimes that means partnering (and sharing your budget) with a third party.

Earn your clients’ trust, and the reputation of PR will surely follow – one client and one company at a time.

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