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When former journalists like me become public relations professionals, it’s known as “going to the dark side.” It’s meant as a joke, but like many jokes a grain of truth rests at its core. It kills those of us who strive to do our jobs with high standards.
There are any number of derogatory terms used to describe PR folks (flacks, shills, parrots, barkers, shysters), but none arouses my ire more than “spin doctor.”
Why? “Spinning” implies we somehow have a magical power to control how the news media reports a story. It’s ridiculous in the age of unfettered online communication available to those with alternate sources of information. Even if a few thought they could get away with this once, it’s virtually impossible now.
But some try. And it’s plenty embarrassing for those of us who strive to be conduits for accurate, timely, useful and truthful information, who adhere to a professional code of ethics (yes, there is one: read it here).
Now I’m not naive enough to think we won’t try to tell our side of a controversial issue or provide an explanation. But if we’re smart, we listen to concerns and problems just as much as we talk about them. We share information with our organizations, learn something, and improve how we operate. We apologize when we need to. Great PR is all about a two-way conversation.
Anyone can hang out a shingle and call him or herself a “PR rep.” But many of us hold ourselves to a higher standard. We really do adhere to the PRSA Code of Ethics. We work hard to achieve professional accreditation (the APR designation), a certification program for the top 2 percent of all professionals signifying a commitment to the highest standards of competence and professional judgment. This should matter to companies who hire public relations people, and reporters who work with them. (Yes, I’m proud to say that I’m an APR, and the co-chair of San Diego’s APR program).
As professionals, we as PR pros need to choose carefully who we represent, educate them about what we do, and insist that we won’t engage in “spinning” or other sorts of games. It’s our reputation on the line when we are asked to do so.
And of all people, we know it’s the messenger that often gets shot.
— GAYLE LYNN FALKENTHAL