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PRSA Boston Blog

This is a blog written by the PRSA Boston president (Tom Nutile for 2008) about events and activities involving PRSA Boston

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Have some respect

I hear time and time again the low esteem in which PR people are held by the general public and the media. We are called “spin doctors” and “flacks”. Every year there is a round of stories about the “horrible flacks.” It is what I consider to be a standing headline.

We can’t keep others from calling us what they will. But there is no reason for us to continue to use negative terminology when talking about ourselves and our industry.

The people whom I have met through PRSA and my professional career are public relations professionals, executives and counselors. If we want others to respect our jobs and our profession, we need to stop using words with negative connotation. More than almost anyone else, we understand the power of words. Why are we handicapping ourselves?

Don’t get me wrong. Using a word without negative connotations does not fix the issue. There are people who give public relations a bad name. But the same holds true for any profession.

We need to do consistently good work, we need to measure results quantitatively, and we need to address underlying issues. But all the good work of a group of people can be undermined with a wrong label.

For example, a few years ago, I represented a company who was in an industry that had negative connotations. They were an independent distributor who operated in what others called the “grey market.” It wasn’t the black market, but there were perceptions that there was something shady about what happened in the industry. This company had outstanding processes, qualified suppliers and a great track record. They wanted to differentiate themselves from others.

One of my most difficult challenges was to convince them to stop referring to themselves as being in the grey market. All their good work was undermined by that term they would use in interviews. The appellation had been tagged on them for 20 years.

We conducted a campaign to educate the media and the spokespeople. As a result the use of the negative term declined 80 percent over two years.

It was a lot of effort. Our challenge is even greater. But we can all help. If you want people to respect our counsel and the value we bring –do me a favor – don’t call yourself, your colleagues or your competitors flacks.

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