Why Do We Get Such Bad Press?


I was reading an article by Mickie Kennedy, founder of eReleases, the other day. He wonders why we PR pros are often reluctant to tackle our own industry’s bad ethical reputation.

He speculates we earn this reputation due to our seemingly unending “…habit of spinning bad actions into a positive light…”

While the really bad decisions some of our so-called colleagues have made headlines, Kennedy says the real problems causing our bad reputation are the more common “…PR stunts such as pay-for-play television programming, where businesses pay to appear in news casts, blurring the line between editorial content (i.e. hard news) and advertisement.” Also hurting our reputation are “…anonymous internet postings where PR pros attempt to create fake word-of-mouth campaigns to promote products…[and]…’astroturfing,’ where corporations advance an agenda while trying to appear as if the effort were merely an astounding grassroots movement.”

If Kennedy has good news, it’s that he feels most of us are good people just trying to do our jobs. He says, “If the honest PR pros continue to uphold their ethics while denouncing PR pros that cross the line, then the industry can eventually shed its bad reputation.”

I agree. I’ve been in this business about 20 years, if you don’t include the time I spent in broadcasting. In all that time, I can count the number of people I wouldn’t do business with again on one hand.

Despite the reputation we carry as “just so much fluff” from some organizational middle managers, senior leader continue to hire us because they understand the vital role we play in the success of their organizations. These senior leaders understand we’ve got a tough job. We have to keep one foot in the organization and one foot with the organization’s stakeholders. Our bosses depend on us to know what’s going on inside and outside. And, they depend on us to give them good counsel.

Giving good counsel means tackling the tough problems, and tough problems often have an ethical component.

Kennedy commends the field for its embrace of codes of ethics and suggests we use them. I agree. Our own organization’s Code of Ethics is one of the most widely recognized in the industry. The PRSA website’s ethics area includes some great resources, including case studies, professional standards advisories and a rich resource area.

All of these resources are only as useful as we make them, of course. That means that in the heat of our busy days, we must recognize when we are facing an ethical situation, if we are ever to hope to resolve it. I think that’s the hardest thing to do of all and I’ll be talking about that in my next blog post.


Mitch Marovitz is the Treasurer and Ethics Committee Chair for the Public Relations Society of America’s National Capital Chapter.

About Mitch Marovitz

Mitch Marovitz is the Treasurer and Ethics Committee Chair for the Public Relations Society of America's National Capital Chapter.

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