Posted by Amanda Chapel Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Here's some juicy gossip: Jim Sinkinson, publisher, of the PR trade magazine, The Bulldog Reporter, recently made advances on yours truly; and when spurned, his amorous overtures turned to insults.
About a week ago, Sinkinson made this proposal: "We would very much like to talk to you about increasing Strumpette's visibility via the Daily Dog. We were impressed particularly with your piece on PR's (in)ability to step up to the challenges of new media, as well as the aspersions you cast on the value of PR 2.0. Provocative stuff, as usual. Any interest?"
We responded by asking Sinkinson what he had in mind.
"Well, the concept is half-baked, but our conversations have ranged all the way from carrying the blog unexpurgated on our site (which quite honestly gives our ad salespeople a bad case of the heebie jeebies) to running selected installments on a periodic basis (which is probably more likely)."
"We're looking for provocative critiques of the industry---the kind you frequently offer. We get uncomfortable, naturally, with personal attacks on people on whom we rely to speak at our events and/or who advertise/exhibit/sponsor with us---their appreciation of a free, unfettered press generally stops when they are criticized."
"We're intrigued by the possibilities."
Ironic actually, Strumpette exists because the Dog's got no teeth. About a year ago Sinkinson wrote the Op-Ed, "Have Lying and Deception Become Job Requirements for PR Professionals?" In it he said: "It seems that dishonesty has become a trademark skill in public relations; if there’s a cure, it can only come from within." He added: “We at Bulldog Reporter could certainly do a more aggressive, more methodical job of exposing bad guys.” Well, in the last year the Lapdog did little more than hump the leg of the Industry. As such, we responded to Jim's offer gingerly telling him that all things considered, his proposal was likely unworkable.
Well, his ego apparently injured, Sinkinson decided this was a good time to blow smoke in our face. “Seventy-three percent of the PR Industry is reading Bulldog once a week,” he said. We responded that considering the state of the business, his claim “was more of a symptom than an accolade.”
And that marked the end of Jim’s appreciation of “a free, unfettered press." Suffice to say the conversation quickly deteriorated into mutually traded insults. Jim suggested that our webmaster "needed a psychiatrist." We responded that the publisher of the Bulldog reporter “needed a set of balls and a fucking conscience.”
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
On Thursday, March 8, 2007 at 7:41 AM, Ronn Torossian, President and CEO of 5WPR, emphatically promised that he was going to sue us. No real reason, he was just irritated by our teasing him about getting in bed with pornographer Joe Francis. Anyway, Ronn gave his obscenity-laced word that we'd see the complaint in 72 hours. It's now late by
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