“Show me a PR person who is ‘accurate’ and ‘truthful’ and I’ll show you a PR person who is unemployed.”
- Andrew Cohen (appearing on CBS Sunday Morning)
My wife and I are avid viewers of CBS Sunday Morning. We consider it some of the best television on television. Generally, the program is insightful, well written and informative. While opinion pieces are standard fare, they are seldom provocative for provocation’s sake.
A couple of Sundays back, however, CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen did a piece on Scott McClellan’s new book. The gist of Cohen’s dissertation was that “McClellan lied because he’s in PR, where ‘misinformation’ is the guiding standard.” Needless to say, this prompted a chorus of responses from the Public Relations Society of America and PR practitioners from around the globe.
To be fair, there are differences between being a spokesman for the White House Office of Communications and practicing public relations in the way most corporate or agency professionals do. What’s more, no one would dispute that PR folks are responsible for presenting information about their client or employer in the most positive perspective possible. However, that does not automatically translate to presenting misinformation, half-truths or intentionally deceptive material.
Are some PR professionals overly zealous in trying to get their messages out? Absolutely. Just as there are people who are overly zealous in just about any profession. On the other hand, conscientious PR practitioners are invaluable assets to news media representatives as well as the organizations they represent because they provide quick and reliable access to important information. Contrary to Mr. Cohen’s assertion, credibility is not antithetical to the public relations profession, it is its lifeblood. If a PR person doesn’t have credibility with the news media, he or she will quickly lose credibility with the client or employer. And that’s a much more likely way to end up on the unemployment line than Mr. Cohen’s scenario.
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