PR People Don’t Deserve your Sympathy

June 19, 2014

love-hate relationship

Saying that journalists and PR people have a love-hate relationship is like saying I watch too much trashy TV.

DUH.

But lately there has been a lot of back and forth between people on the PR side and the journalist side, which was spurred by this post from Jennifer Pan. It’s worth a read, but she basically writes about why PR people (made up mostly of women, which raises gender bias questions in its own right) shouldn’t be so hated and publicly vilified by journalists because we’re just filling a natural “emotional labor” role in the machine.

Subsequently, a writer for Gawker (who regularly posts bad PR pitches on their site) responded to her post by saying that, despite sympathizing with the toils of PR, he still argues against the role of PR in general. He says that it is still just big corporations throwing their big bucks at buying friendly faces to distract or mislead the public into liking them.

OK, so he basically called the entire PR industry – made up of a lot of former journalists, I might add – a soulless illusionist show sponsored by major corporations. Still, he does feel bad that we (PR people) got stuck in this game where everyone yells at us and where we’re brainwashed into believing whatever we’re told.

Here’s the thing: we don’t deserve that sympathy. Yes, the hours and stress can be rough. Yes, it sucks when we spend hours researching reporters who we think would be interested in a story, only to get a “pass” (wait – actually, I’ll take a pass…it’s the total silence that really sucks). And, yes, it hurts our feelings when journalists view us as misleading telemarketers.

But why would we need sympathy when we get to call a startup CEO who has poured her heart and soul into her business and tell her that a major news outlet wants to cover her hard work and show how she’s helping people solve a common or expensive problem?

Why would we need sympathy when a reporter says, “yeah, that’s much cooler than what [insert big corporation here] has done”?

Why would we need sympathy when a local non-profit gets on the local news and sees a boost in the number of signatures they need to get their issue on the ballot, and them a little closer to making a difference?

Unfortunately, the Gawker piece only refers to cold, heartless corporations as the behind-the-curtain reason for such an empty, misleading industry. No mention of non-profits that might not describe PR as empty and misleading, but instead as “how we can build support that helps the communities we serve,” or the startups that might describe it as “how we can compete with our big corporate competitors without having the same deep pockets they have for expensive ad buys and marketing efforts.”

I know it’s easy to lump in PR people with the cigar-smoking lobbyists who are pulling the media’s puppet springs (OK, I’m just thinking of the John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd characters in The Campaign), but we’re not. And I’m sure a lot of lobbyists aren’t either (watch, now I start a beef between PR and lobbyists).

I’d say a majority of us are just trying to make sure journalists don’t miss out on stories that their readers might think are cool, that might solve a problem, that might make them think or that might make a difference.

Instead, put your sympathy toward the people who should know better than to announce publicly their embarrassing addiction to questionable TV…but do it quietly, I’m watching Real Housewives.

-Monica

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