Over the past few years PR pros have taken a lot of criticism from some members of the media, such as WIRED‘s Chris Anderson, Lifehacker‘s Gina Trapani, and TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington. However, much of this criticism may be unjust.
A study in the July 2009 Journal of Public Relations Research shows that PR pros are very ethical thinkers. The report was conducted by Renita Coleman, a Legacy Scholar at Penn State’s Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communication and her colleague Lee Wilkins. In the report Coleman and Wilkins write:
“Public relations professionals see their role as connecting clients to the larger world, primarily though journalists or to the news media. To accomplish this function, they need to maintain the trust of both parties, but particularly the trust of journalists who are already skeptical of their institutional role and their individual motives. Consequently, honesty and a lack of willingness to deceive those who receive information are critical in effective public relations practice.”
While I agree with this report, I don’t understand why these results would be surprising. Public relations is about helping companies share information and tell their story. Yes, there are certain messages that companies can highlight while telling their story and sharing their news, but PR people never encourage their clients to lie. When a company has an announcement to make, it is the job of PR people to analyze how noteworthy the news is and set realistic goals and expectations, and there are absolutely no circumstances where lying to a reporter will benefit an individual or a company.
Back to the study, the results show that PR people have similar ethics to other professionals such as journalists, nurses and dental students. In fact, PR people scored better than orthopedic surgeons, business professionals, accounting students and veterinary students.
So next time Anderson, Trapani or Arrington write a critical blog post, maybe it will be about their veterinarian.