Monday, 30 April 2012

In which PRs aren't completely stupid

When did “PR person” become shorthand for “vacuous, superficial, braying idiot”?

I know it’s a trivial thing to be cross about, but there seems to have been a lot of it around of late, and the increasingly insidious sniping at PRs is, frankly, getting on my tits.

I’ve (sadly) come to expect it from papers like the Guardian, which seem to have an editorial policy of Not Being Nice to PRs (both in their writing as well as their dealings on the phone), or frankly hypocritical bloggers, but these days apparently even the usually reliable bastions of sense are at it. 

I’m well aware that PR has an image of being an easy career, something that middle-class girls do for a few years before settling down and getting married and spending the rest of their lives complaining to their tennis buddies about the difficulty of finding a decent nanny.

Maybe in some cases, that’s true. But, my MA in Politics and IR; ambition; need to be doing something interesting and stimulating with my life; and desire not to rely financially on anyone else to pay my own mortgage would lead me to disagree.

And when we’re not being portrayed as vacuous, we’re all evil merchants of spin, cosying up to unsavoury types and trying to put a positive slant on human rights abuses, or sneaking dodgy deals through with the consent of Cabinet ministers.

Which, shock, horror, isn’t true either. Some of us have turned down jobs based purely on lists of potential clients that would have made it rather tricky to sleep soundly at night.

PR’s not one of life’s worthy careers, by any means. Of that, I am well aware. We don’t spend our days searching for the Higgs Boson; curing cancer; or highlighting grievous abuses of human rights. But neither is it entirely composed of standing round at glamorous parties quaffing champagne, ignoring all things Real Life in favour of trying to bag one of the boys from Made in Chelsea.

Talk to any PR worth their salt, and they’ll tell you about long, stressful days dealing with demanding clients and difficult, ego-driven journalists. I would argue that anyone who, on a day-to-day basis, deals with some of the world’s biggest listed companies or advises globally-recognised MNCs on their corporate media strategy, isn’t a total idiot.

To manage multiple account teams working across a variety of clients and projects, or deal with budgets of hundreds of thousands of pounds; to be able to flit from media relations for a small tech start-up to advising on corporate comms strategy around an IPO for a financial client, you have to have your wits about you.

I’m a PR – one of those supposedly vacuous, fatuous types; the sort no one wants to spend time with in bars and restaurants because I have nothing interesting to say. Which I find really bloody offensive.

Because, far from caring about which TOWIE contestant has done what, or whether print or pastel is the only thing to be seen in this Spring, I’m more likely to want a conversation about why Mary Beard is such a brilliant, brilliant woman; or whether Zoe Williams’ latest article in the Guardian was fundamentally flawed (it was).

I honestly don’t remember the last time I opened a copy of heat or even Grazia. But the publication that I read every day without fail? The FT.

And rather than spending every evening in a bar full of mindless prattle, I’d rather go home to a glass of decent red and the West Wing; or head to PolitiGal’s office to help her out with her latest campaign; or attend a charity fundraising event with JournoGal, knocking back the gins and tonic, and trying desperately not to scratch my nose in case it’s taken for a several-thousand pound bid for a share in a racehorse.

So, no, actually: my peers and I aren’t all airheaded idiots with nothing to say. We’re not in it for the champagne, or as a time-filler before marriage – just as all journalists aren’t police-bribing, phone-hacking toerags, with such lazy writing that they adopt inaccurate shorthand because of a chronic lack of thought and creativity. But hey – why let the facts get in the way of a good story?


cara waters said...

Well said. As a journalist I am sometimes shocked by how rude some journalists are to PRs. Everyone is just trying to do their job. Yes there are some that call on deadline or to see if you have got their press release but most of the PRs I deal with are actually brilliant at their job and very hard working.

Blonde said...

Cara, it is hugely heartening to hear that from across the divide. It's so depressing to find one's chosen career belittled and bemoaned over and over again. The support is much appreciated! x

Blonde said...

Received from director of comms and fellow PR via email:

"Slight objection to the use of the word entirely… “But neither is it entirely composed of standing round at glamorous parties quaffing champagne, ignoring all things Real Life in favour of trying to bag one of the boys from Made in Chelsea.”

"I work in Public relations and I don’t think I’ve ever been to a glamorous party through work (In 10 years in the construction industry, the peak was probably a Civil Engineering Contractors Association Annual Dinner in Harrogate – we drank Black Sheep bitter, not champagne). Things have looked up a bit since I came [here], but there are still no soft-scripted reality TV stars involved.

"But I’m being silly. One serious point is that I don’t think you are a “PR”. I’ve met you, we’ve had a some excellent conversations... I believe you are a professional who works in public relations. But I have a growing dislike of the acronym. “PR” is flippant shorthand for something neither person in the conversation really sounds like they understand. “Public relations” is probably no better understood, but at least it challenges people to come to terms with it. I’ve tried to alter the house style here to stop [colleagues] referring to it as PR when we are trying to be serious, but in a 140 character world it’s not realistic and I have other things to worry about."

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