Posted by Amanda Chapel
“You dirty liar. I hope you rot in hell!!”
Sound familiar? Could have been the voice on the other end of the line with your last client call. Perhaps a little casual chat with a reporter? Hmmm... Maybe not this week but it is only Monday. Here we examine why PR is now recognized as the “lying profession” and what that means.
ACKNOWLEDGING THE PROBLEM
First some background: A colleague here tells a funny little story about when he first recognized that he was in “The Lying Profession.” At one point he headed media relations at a little Advertising/PR boutique. The firm had an interesting makeup people-wise. It was almost 70 percent Moody Bible fanatics. One of the firm’s partners had gotten it in his head that they constituted a class of people on the backs of which he could build a business, i.e. they worked hard for alms and wouldn’t/couldn't steal. Anyway, to a person they got the advertising stuff. To them that was pretty straightforward. But when it came to crafting messages, and telling stories with the intent of manipulating the news... they all got squeamish. “Isn't that lying?," they would ask. "No, it's PR!," the media relations director would respond.
Well, the good news is that like a raging alcoholic, the industry does acknowledge it's got a problem. A little over a year ago Industry sycophant Jim Sinkinson, Publisher of the Lapdog Reporter, admitted “Have Lying and Deception Become Job Requirements for PR Professionals?” And, of course, last year the president of Makovsky & Company, Ken Makovsky, wrote an article titled, "Truthiness,” where he said, "People are playing fast and loose with the facts in an attempt to sound credible.” Ken advised, “Don't play with the facts and craft something that's not the truth... just something you wish were true." Sadly, not two months later Makovsky released the results of a bullshit study, "Fortune 1000 Senior Executives Slow to React to the Growing Credibility of Corporate Blogs,” in the hopes of building a blog practice. Me thinks he speak with forked tongue.
Anyway, late last week, the problem reared its ugly head again. At an event coincidentally sponsored by PR Weak in London, in a poll of the audience of over 260 public relations executives, the majority (138) voted against the motion that "PR has a duty to tell the truth." According to an attendee there, on arguing against the motion, Max Clifford told the audience how his first duty was always to his client and that he had been "telling lies on behalf of my clients for 40 years".
WHY IS IT A PROBLEM?
Jeff Jarvis our resident blog demagogue passed judgment straight away. To sum up his assessment: PR is damned. Jarvis said that in the Age of Links, “It raises the question of whether a PR person can be transparent and, indeed, credible; this would seem to say 'no'.”
But why? Just so we are clear, why are people like Jeff comfortable with the knee-jerk reaction that lying is inherently bad. It’s not like it’s rare. Mark Twain wrote more than a century ago: "Everybody lies ... every day, every hour, awake, asleep, in his dreams, in his joy, in his mourning. If he keeps his tongue still his hands, his feet, his eyes, his attitude will convey deception." Deceit is fundamental to the human condition.
According to the finding of a recent survey by psychologist Jeff Hancock of Cornell University, respondents lied during a quarter of their social interactions. According to a recent study conducted at University of Massachusetts, “most people lie in normal conversation when they are trying to appear competent and likeable; and 60 percent of people lie at least once during the course of a 10-minute conversation.”
Okay. So why is that a problem? Answer: Lying is a problem when on a fundamental level it robs another of what essentially makes them human, i.e. the freedom of choice.
IS THE PROBLEM ABSOLUTE?
No. Morally speaking, the prohibition against lying is not absolute. There are several situations where lying is not only justified but a moral imperative:
THE PROBLEM WITH THE WORD “TRUTH”
It is 34 degrees out. That‘s true. I love my boyfriend dearly. That, too, is true. The first is measurable. The second is not measurable and any expression of it will always be an approximate representation. When it comes to the “human condition” and things that are meaningful... we associate “truth” with the latter and not the former. We were not put on this earth to gauge the temperature.
That said, ALL of art is a lie... a vehicle devised to carry truth. And for that fiction to be believable... it must be fact-based.
Bottom line: A PR person is a corporate story teller who writes a fact-based narrative about, and dialogue for, the legal fictional character, "the corporation."
THE PROBLEM WITH PR LYING
There are two main reasons why PR is getting itself in trouble today and with greater frequency: execution and motive.
First, PR execution has gone to hell in a hand basket. Just look at writing. PR was a “discipline” and writing was our “craft.” Today, it’s a cut-n-paste exercise by idiots that not only can’t spell, but are too lazy to use the spellchecker! Terrible. Today, we sling crap and distribute it globally with instant push-button ease. Actually, spammers aside, PR is the undisputed king of the unsolicited and unstoppable strategic commercial message.
Here's the deal: if you can’t write you can think. And if you can't think deeper than whom you are trying to convince, you’ll be revealed as a sham in short order. Some petty PR goof trying to steal my choice, go away! The Internet today does that all at lightening speed.
Now the BIG problem, i.e. motive. By definition: “A lie is an untruthful statement made to someone else with the intention to deceive. To lie is to say something one believes to be false with the intention that it be taken for the truth by someone else.”
To quote the Moody Bible folks, “Is that lying?” Yes, Mary; it is indeed. But today the dynamics have changed. Used to be our motive was purely to provide facts to the media. Then PR morphed into selling the media on manufactured news. Today, as Richard Edelman will tell you, we are unencombered by any vetting mechanism. We can take a manufactured proposition directly to our “targeted” audience(s) via the Web. Today, PR is no longer a news function at all. It’s all about surreptitious selling. Ethics with word-of-mouth marketing... pahlease. The strategic goal it to manipulate you (rob you of choice) by orchestrating messages via your peers. There's a special place in Hell for WOMM proponents.
And if that weren't bad enough, now enter publicly-traded conglomerates and New-York bean counters who don’t give a damn how you get the client to fork over the dough as long as you meet the monthly and quarterly projections. See the problem is that we then delude ourselves into thinking that we're lawyers rep-ing clients in the “court of public opinion.” That’s crap. We are sycophants and paid liars who for the right amount of money leave our moral fortitude and conscience at the door. Reread Ronn Torossian’s justification for marketing porn. Shameless and at the same time, totally commonplace. The problem is systemic.
Dear Mom, I decided to be a professional liar. I am good at it and as you are aware, it's been a lifelong dream to turn it into a career. I hope to make you and Dad proud.
Posted by Amanda Chapel
This just in from downtown Raleigh, North Carolina, near Moore Square...
For the record, the real story here is that Moore Square is home to Raleigh's beloved half-ton copper acorn. Designed to commemorate the city's bicentennial, today this monstrosity is said to bring good luck.
Lord give me strength.
Posted by Amanda Chapel
That's it. I’ve had it. I quit!!
Okay, deep breath. Where’s this coming from? Have you ever been to that place where something seems so hopeless that you can literally taste it? Like stale sourdough bread. Well, that's where my head is today with regard to the PR business and Strumpette for that matter. PR is so beyond ridiculous. Fact is, it’s beyond shameless. What’s the point?! That is the point!
I am literally writing this on the floor. I pretty much have lost the will to live. Perhaps the Strumpette exorcise (with an “o”) has been a total waste, a mere homage to the vanities. That’s so depressing. It is/was the good fight but maybe it’s time to throw in the towel.
Another deep breath… followed by a long exasperated sigh. Apparently, my week here has gotten off to a bad start. Ya think? As some of you know, I'm still reeling from having lost my friend Ronn Torossian to “youth” porn. Very depressing. He’s the next generation and I had such high hopes. But in retrospect, what’s more depressing is that this is not an isolated incident. He clearly makes that point in his rebuttal. Sadly, it underscores what PR has become today, i.e. an industry without a conscience or soul. Anything goes. One can never be out of bounds in a place without moral boundaries. Frankly, it is worse than even that. Today, fucked-up behavior pays! How much free publicity did Britney just get for shaving her head and readmitting herself to rehab? Immeasurable. Priceless.
Why is that? Well, it’s partially a cultural thing. And on the road to ubiquitous PR, the model disintegrated. Here, fundamentally it used to be: Popularity got you laid. Getting laid led to opportunities. Opportunities led to cash flow. Cash used correctly could bolster popularity. Repeat cycle.
The operative word is “popularity.” See, there once were moral standards. Someone did something heinous; they ended up in the Book of the Dead. Today, they’re likely in Oprah’s Book Club. Today, just plain exposure is confused for popularity. Hey, Strumpette has more than 600 friends on MySpace. Not really sure what the hell that even means.
It is in that context that “beyond ridicule” comes into play. We’ve sold our clients on the value of general awareness and simultaneously spun our moral compass right out the window. The new model is: Ink, ink, ink... exposure equals celebrity. Celebrity will get one laid. That invariable will dramatically increase the parade (of Chris Hansen pervs actually, but what the hell). And that will likely get you a guest spot on Oprah. Book sales will skyrocket. It's sad but true.
Here’s an example: We were going to write a story about Maggie Chamberlin Holben today. Damn that shameless minx. If you recall, a few months ago we wrote a story about Maggie titled, "Colorado Businesswomen Busted for Public Self Gratification." Totally embarrassing, not like marketing porn to youth, mind you, but still. We ridiculed Maggie strongly for her having broadly distributed a press release announcing pathetically that she had been quoted in the paper. What utter crap. The news was only that Mags had been was mentioned in the news! We teased her incessantly and said that “according to our sources, Maggie is presently considering a press release about having distributed her press release.” Well, sure enough… she did it again:
For the record, that’s incurable. So is Torossian. Why? Simple game theory: when everyone is cheating and there’s no negative consequence for the behavior, it short order; everyone will cheat at the game. It’s a competitive advantage and the rules are lowered to accommodate it. It’s the psychology of looting. In that context, morals are a huge burden. That’s about where we are as an industry.
Can we be shamed into good behavior? Hmmmm… doesn’t look like it. I think we may be beyond that. In the past Torossian would have dropped the Girls Gone Wild account faster than you can say “anal.” Maggie certainly would have learned from her mistake rather than celebrate it.
Frankly, I think the effectiveness of public ridicule is all but dead. Hey, I don’t think it’s even possible to defame a PR person. First, for the obvious reason, you can’t insult someone that low, technically speaking; but more importantly, there's no damage. Ridicule just leads to more general awareness which will invariably lead to more business.
Seriously, I so quit.
See you tomorrow.
Posted by Amanda Chapel
This just in from our office in Lagos, Nigeria... the Nigeria Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) has warned unregistered PR practitioners to "close shop" or face a hefty fine and up to six months jail.
According to Saudat Abdulbaqi, PR Officer for the organization's Kwara branch, "NIPR had issued a directive as part of resolutions adopted at the institute’s recent national conference and annual meeting in Makurdi."
Quoting provisions stipulated in Decree No. 16 of 1990, now an Act of Nigeria's National Assembly, Saudat said the NIPR had been formally recognized as a chartered body enjoying the same status as lawyers and doctors. However, with that she said that only registered members of the Institute could now address themselves as PR practitioners.
“Non-members who parade themselves as PRs can now be apprehended, dragged into court, and have both fine and imprisonment imposed on them,’” she said.
Abdulbaqi advised PR practitioners to register with the Institute, ASAP.
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