How Public Relations Has Been Negatively Portrayed in the Media
By: Alexa Morrissey, Account Executive
The media’s negative portrayal of public relations has created a bias for those entering and working in the field. For decades, the public realm has seemed to treat the public relations industry with contempt. The negativity surrounding public relations currently permeates the media and is frequently reflected in verbal comments and in printed articles in an array of academia. Key terms like “manipulator” and “schemer” are constantly utilized to describe the profession. These negative connotations impact society by giving individuals a falsely fabricated view of what PR professionals perform on a daily basis. In essence, their livelihood and goals are misunderstood by uneducated individuals who continuously spread false impressions and contribute to the vicious cycle of misinformation. It is crucial to realize that the media greatly influences everyone, especially the younger generations who utilize social media as their main source to access international, national and local news.
For years, individuals have charged that PR representatives are unethical, manipulative, one-sided, and deceptive. People complain that PR representatives focus their efforts on serving personal interests rather than the interests of specific clients. PR practitioners respond to these harsh rumors by stating that the public often has a narrow and self-righteous view of PR work and knows little about public relations. The profession prides itself on ethical conduct which is evident through the Public Relations Society of America’s, or PRSA’s, Code of Ethics. PRSA is committed to ethical practices. The organization ensures that all members serve the public good and that those seeking public trust are operating ethically and responsibly. According to the PRSA Code of Ethics, “Each of us sets an example for each other – as well as other professionals – by our pursuit of excellence with powerful standards of performance, professionalism and ethical conduct.” It is apparent that PR representatives strive to preserve the integrity of the communications process, which involves honesty, transparency and accuracy with every project and/or job presented to them.
In 2012, the iconic TV show Scandal was released. The series focused on Washington fixer Olivia Pope's crisis management PR firm, “Pope & Associates” (P&A). P&A was dedicated to protecting the public images of the nation's elite only to realize that their clients held secrets. The show primarily portrayed the world of crisis management in a negative light.
Additionally, the 1997 film Wag the Dog demonstrated a rather “deceptive” perspective of the public relations industry. The movie concocted a national security crisis to diverge the public from focusing on a domestic presidential scandal. Throughout the film, the public relations profession is portrayed negatively. The industry was thrown under the bus and the movie plot suggested that the PR industry only existed to manipulate the public. This impression is inherently inaccurate and disrespectful to those whose strong efforts and significant time and energy are placed into their work and craft.
The public relations profession promotes healthy and fair competition among individuals and preserves an ethical climate while fostering a robust business environment. It is disrespectful to PR representatives to dismiss their diligent efforts so quickly solely based on faulty preconceived notions. It is time to change these impressions and to build respect for the profession of public relations. PR representatives are dedicated to improving, adapting, and expanding professional practices and ethical guidelines, and society should have the responsibility and respect to honor those vows.