Public Relations – Image Problem? What Image Problem?

(Heaves sigh of despair.)

Right, dearest blog trotters, and especially those of you who labour, as I do, in this vale of tears we affectionately call ‘spin’, here – I am afraid – we go again.

Just before I get to the point – and those of my most faithful snorkellers will know how partial I am to a nice bit of a ramble – the PRCA (that’s the Public Relations Consultants’ Association, for those who aren’t familiar) is muscling in on territory hitherto trodden solely by the CIPR (that’s the Chartered Insititute of Public Relations for those etc etc etc). Which means that two bodies, supposedly with the same interest in promoting and assisting the growth and welfare of the communications profession, are at each other’s throats in a fight over memberships. A fight which, may I say, is undoubtedly consuming some of their time. Time which I pay upwards of £200 a year for.

Time which could be spent doing something more useful.

Like working on changing the general perception of the Public Relations industry, as defined by what our friends in the media have to say about it. To whit, and to be admitted as evidence, m’lud, this little piece from last night’s Evening Standard. (Is it too much to ask of you? Just one small click? Just this once?)

OK, so it’s a fairly jocular piece about immigration and the current hoo-hah about supposedly lax UK border controls. It says that most immigrants making their way to this country are determined and hard-working – which, when compared to the workshy, thieving, poorly-educated and boorish UK natives that I see down my street every day, they quite clearly are – and it says that they are keen to work and that they find jobs in flexible sectors of the economy such as labouring, fruit-picking, public relations, terrorism and the sex-trade.

Whoops! Did you spot that? Public Relations compared to terrorism and the sex-trade?

OK, OK – keep your hair on. I know it’s a joke and – in all honesty – it was the only thing I read yesterday that made me laugh.

But is does highlight, underline, reinforce and generally illuminate the same old problem that our profession has faced at least since I started to work in it. We have an image problem people – which is like saying that the Pope has a balcony and Pippa Middleton, a derriere. We have always had an image problem, and we all know it, and we’ve all – at one time or another – been involved in a debate about it.

Personally – to my mind – it’s what the PRCA and the CIPR are there for. And they’re not being terribly effective. Mind – we none of us are, truth be told.


Before anyone has a pop – while, yes, I am having a rant and poking fun at the expense of the industry (specifically the CIPR – of which I am a member), there is also a very serious message underpinning this post. And why – blog snorkellers mine – would I waste time in delivering the message? So here it is.

We, sad sailors on this ship of fools that we call communications, are supposed to be sensitive to shit. With me so far? Part of our function, and a part that fills the fee coffers of so many of of our finest agency purveyors, is counselling clients (internal and external) on how to present themselves. What to say. What not to say. What to align with. What not to align with. What to embrace. What not to embrace. We are supposed to point out the pitfalls of courses of communications action and – most importantly – recognise when it is best to keep your head down and just say nowt.

So it is with mouth-dropping incredulity that I read this. For you lazy bastards who never click on a single link I post, it’s a story about the Northumbria Police Force who entered the CIPR (Chartered Institute of Public Relations) PRide Awards (even the name makes my skin crawl), and won an award, with their handling of the fallout from a fatal crash in which one of its officers drove into, and killed, a 16-year old child. The officer was doing 94mph in a 30mph zone without lights or a siren, and he was jailed for three years.

Now. Where to start. CIPR PRide Awards judges – what made you think that it was a good idea to consider this for an award, never mind actually naming it a winner? Northumbria Police Force – who amongst your communicators was so thick-skinned, blind and self-centred as to think that a pathetic PR award was more important than the feelings, grief and privacy of a family missing a daughter? Did no-one involved in this predict the (yes, inevitable) fallout?

Once again, the PR industry gets a shoeing in the national media and the stereotype of the airheaded, oblivious PR practitioner gets a bit of reinforcing.

We’re our own worst enemies. Let’s try and tighten things up shall we, and bring the same rigour that we claim to apply to our client work to bear on the communications we do on our own behalf. Let’s try and be – genuinely – a profession.

And not just a cheap fucking joke.