Public relations is a big industry. As such, it has its fair share of cringe-worthy moments. Like the one last week, when a PR rep contacted reporters and offered to pay them money to write favorable blogs about their client. This is an elementary-level no-no that is taught in journalism and public relations schools throughout the U.S.
In my J-school, it was framed as the separation of church and state in the newsroom: the entity seeking to pay money to get its message across was directed to the advertising department. The newsroom was walled off from that transaction so as not to unduly influence the fair and objective newsgathering process.
In this particular case, the PR rep actually wasn’t a PR professional at all. She was a freelancer with no training, contracted by a content marketing agency, to stir up some good press for a client. So perhaps it’s not surprising that she flubbed it. But it does underscore the importance of sending trained PR pros in to engage with journalists. Too often I see content marketing agencies and advertising firms claiming to ‘do PR,’ but their idea of PR is spamming the media with awful press releases and, in this unfortunate case, trying to buy reporters.
— Alex Stuckey (@alexdstuckey) September 26, 2014
What does a PR pro learn that informs the way they conduct themselves in their profession? Ethics, objectivity, accuracy, First Amendment rights, sunshine laws, copyright laws, important legal decisions, and much more.
A lot has changed in the news business in the last decade, including the rise of paid blogging and native advertising, which are presented as news but are actually paid content. But in serious newsrooms, like the ones contacted by this PR rep, the separation of church and state is sacred. A true PR pro knows this well.
What level of ethics should be expected from a reputable PR firm? Leave a comment below, or tweet us at @RHStrategic with the hashtag #RHetoricBlog.
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