PR isn’t just about public relations, it’s also about public responsibility

Craig Hall

But in this day and age, much of PR has become plausible repudiation. 

How’s that, Craig? Well, considering I’m surrounded by it daily in my job, I see this in many ways and forms every time I open my inbox. Whether it’s by commission, omission or flat out diversion, it happens all the time. 

 Back when I was wasting money to get my degree at the University of Phoenix scam of a college, one of the required classes was public relations. To this day, it’s the only class that applied to my vocation for the past 21 years. Let’s look at what I found about the definition of public relations related to its current state. 

Public relations (PR) is the practice of deliberately managing the release and spread of information between an individual or organization (such as a business, government agency or nonprofit organization) and the public to affect public perception. 

That’s the sad truth. And it couldn’t be further from the truth as far as what I took away from the one valuable class at the college where five weeknights gets you three credits. Because I just used the one word which was my takeaway from the class. To me, public relations is about the truth. Like it or not, we’ll all have to face it eventually. Which also explains corporate and government avoidance of it.  

So let’s get back to the truth while touching on the other PR — the press release. Now all public relations memos are indeed press releases, but not all press releases are public relations. Press releases should be simple. They inform the media someone or some entity has a story that could be worthy of coverage. We get those all the time at the Business Times. You know what? Most are indeed worth covering.
To answer another question I get all the time, many press releases become cover stories.  

But there are also times when a press release is a “new definition” public relations ploy — that is when it isn’t an ad disguised as an advertisement. And both of those go right into the trash. And the biggest violators? Government and big business. 

For recent reference, let’s just say coronavirus. I can’t think of a worse example across the board at all levels showing where public relations has been fueled by lie after lie, diversion after diversion and contradiction after contradiction.  

But first, let’s go back to the innocent days when my eyes were opened from the two examples we used on those never-to-get-the-time-back-Wednesday-nights in “college” — the Exxon Valdez oil spill and Challenger space shuttle explosion. Those examples taught me the second most valuable lesson: You really have to dig down into both PRs to get to the truth. 

Let’s take the wandering, three-hour tour of the Exxon Valdez and its unmitigated disaster. Here’s the only thing Exxon needed to say: “Our boat wrecked, the wrong guy was at the helm cause El Capitan was hammered and we’ll pay to clean up the mess.” But what did we get? Diversion, deflection and outright lies. This goes to the heart of why my version of public relations is about the truth. It always comes out. In the end, the PR campaign did Exxon more harm than good. 

Let’s not forget the other sides of the Valdez disaster, the environmentalist and disaster-response PR campaigns. How many times were you told it would take decades for Prince William Sound to recover? Yet it only took a few years for the waters to recover, contradicting the environmentalist PR while wildlife benefitted from the clear PR winner of the disaster, the makers of Dawn dish soap.  

To know all that, one had to put in some time and effort to know the simple truth. It was Exxon’s fault, environmental groups overhyped the end times and the free market came up with a ton of solutions to help. But that’s not what you heard, is it? 

As for the Challenge disaster, I can sum this up in a few words. It was the government’s fault. I’ll simply ask one question: Do you know why the Challenger exploded? I am betting no. In a nutshell, the government banned a most important component in the manufacture of the O rings on the booster rockets. The component in question? Asbestos. 

Worse, the government knew the new O rings wouldn’t hold up. What did it do? It believed its internal PR that all was safe in spite of objections to the contrary. And it took forever for the truth to come out. The truth is simple: Challenger exploded because the government banned a product it had previously approved for safe use. Hear any examples of that lately? 

So, is anyone surprised when a good chunk of the public has little to no faith in the response to COVID-19? Look who’s running the PR: the government and big business, particularly big pharma.  

Diversions, half-truths and contradictions leave many with no idea what’s going on. The reason for lack of trust is simple. The public doesn’t believe it knows the truth. The PR sucks.