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The Biggest Threats Facing PR

Earlier this year, when reading a colleague’s blog post, it occurred to me that there are some very real threats facing us as PR Practitioners, both in terms of detriment to the field and harm to third party participants.

I am accustomed to thinking that there are no real threats, just challenges that are in need of adaptive approaches or strategies. If life gives you lemons, make lemonade… if life gives you oranges, make orange juice… and so forth and so on through the list of palatable fruits.

But the article about the danger of the site made me think about the very real impacts of making sites available that destroy the efforts of PR. At first, you might think that putting the power in the hands of regular media consumers would be good- that it might help keep things accountable, and if something horrible happens, we simply do our jobs as usual and get things back on track.

No, sites like these have proven records of direct physical harm to the users and their families/friends. Juicy Campus has led to depression and suicidal tendencies. YouTube has fostered a subculture of users who record children beating each other up. Facebook has developed a generation of users who stalk long lost acquaintances down.

The point is not that the users themselves or the tools they use are the sole threats. The threat is that together, unchecked, unmediated, without that set of risk and strategic management skills that PR fosters, not only will we suffer as PR practitioners, but society will begin to see a degradation in moral fiber.

However, this will also hurt us directly—in the same way that the media is and has been hurting us as well through lack of proper and adequate representation or understanding of what it is we do.

In the movie “Phonebooth,” a moderately entertaining psychological thriller about a man trapped in a phone booth by a terrorist, the man claims to practice PR as a “publicist.” This man’s daily routines involve twisting the truth, bribing, manipulation and complete dishonesty in order to only be considered “small time.” He uses the words “public relations” and “publicist” very clearly.

This stereotype is reinforced in shows like “Spin City” and movies like “How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days,” often mistakenly combining the field with the field of advertising. While these are usually light-hearted and acceptable, we all know the dangers of mistaking the definition of PR from impressions on the silver screen and that PR is not “evil,” as the media may portray it. What we do not realize is its very real effect on those who don’t realize its falsity, and whom are now looking for revenge – a power put in their hands by the social networks, the online media platforms and the many blog sites available online.

We are in danger of being replaced by a subculture that does not believe we are necessary, but who do not have the facts, the training or the mindset to argue back effectively. They don’t need their facts checked, and they don’t have to care for another human being – they just have to have an agenda.


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    I go through an explanation of my major with my engineer roommate/friend every week. He really does not understand the differences between publicity, advertising, public relations and marketing. I try telling him that public relations is the dissemination of the truth. We, as public relations practitioners, are truth tellers. We do not try to hide. Rather, we bring it to light to people look at our clients as trustworthy, honest community citizens. At the same time, we advise upper management to act with integrity to avoid controversy. But with movies and this growing subculture (as you mentioned), it’s hard to negate a common perception of our profession. While I hope to pursue a career in marketing, and maybe eventually finance, I strive to remember the principals set forth by PRSA and The University of Alabama APR department. Hopefully, applying basic principals such as honesty and integrity outside of the profession, I can start to develop a good reputation for public relations while improving the actions of its sister professions.


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