If you're in public relations or if you're aspiring to join the public relations field, you likely read PR Daily. This is one of the greatest PR tools online.
A few months ago, PR Daily published another great article called "10 harsh truths about working in PR." This article encompasses a few of the reasons why I have moved on from PR.
Anyone who reads my blog on a semi-regular basis knows that PR and I are not as close as we once were. I will concede that PR has some great advantages and positives. I am one of those people who could not stand a desk job. The idea of doing the same thing over and over again drives me crazy. Public relations offers a lot of variety and demands the wearing a lot of hats, which is great.
However, my greatest peeve is that PR is a slave to society.
One "harsh truth" listed in this article is some people give public relations a bad rap.
Even as professional organizations, columnists and industry voices tout the necessity of ethics in PR, it is very hard to define what is "ethical." Equally difficult, an industry leader cannot call out another professional for doing something wrong. That's for the journalists. Coca-Cola, for example, was the main sponsor of the Public Relations Student Society of America's National Conference in Atlanta last year. The keynote speaker was the Coke's VP of Public Affairs Scott Williamson. Naturally, Williamson went on (unprovoked) to defend the use of aspartame and defend Coke as a proponent of health. The room full of PR professionals cheered him on as a personable and enthusiastic speaker. He was, after all, performing great PR on behalf of his company.
However, no one asked about the millions Coke has spent lobbying for allowing food stamps to be used to purchase their unhealthy products, avoiding healthcare reform taxes, providing poisonous fertilizer to local farmers in India or Coke's use of school sponsorships to keep their sugary products close to the willing hands of public school children. Katie Couric mentioned Coke more than a few times in her recent documentary, "Fed Up." If you have Netflix, you should watch it while it's still available.
Of course, some will come to defend Coke as a business just doing business. As a free market capitalist, I understand this completely and am not suggesting that Congress tax or regulate Coke into oblivion. But I think it's sad that a room full of PR professionals didn't make a peep or raise a single objection to Williamson, just because he has an impressive job working for a big name like Coke.
Another "harsh truth" raised in the article is that time is of the essence. We live in a fast-paced society. While this is true, pandering to this relative truth does nobody any good. Crisis communications is a beast of its own, true. When there is a crisis, it is important to respond in a timely manner. I respect the PR professional who is able to invest themselves in a job that can essentially be an "on-call 24/7" experience. I have been embracing the concept of a digital cleanse more regularly. And it's wonderful. Even Arianna Huffington, in her latest book "Thrive," argues for more sleep and sleeping without a phone nearby. Granted, that's a little easier to do when you're the boss. But that doesn't mean that the "everyday-professional" should ignore her advice. If you're in PR, it's harder to do. Society demands we be in constant contact. I have no desire to participate in this.
Yet more "harsh truths" include that stress is to be expected, PR is competitive and one has to prove his or her worth to avoid a layoff. Hence the increased usage and addiction to alcohol and caffeine among PR professionals and the strain on family life. I do not mean to strike any nerves here, there are plenty of PR and marketing professionals who balance family and work life well and plenty who aren't alcoholics. However, the stress builds on itself. As more stress presents itself, the stress over the stress can build...exponentially increasing said stress.
Perhaps my greatest annoyance, though, is how PR panders to the worst of society. Public relations sometimes ignores truth for the sake of what is convenient. Truth is an established standard regardless of what the cultural norm is. Admittedly, this can be difficult to wrestle with. To some extent, when society at large has an issue with a client, the issue must be dealt with in a manner in which society would understand. However, when the issue is over a rumor, unproven controversy or even over the opinion of a single high-level employee, PR professionals are quick to issue apologies, scapegoat the "responsible" party or ignore the issue entirely by distracting with positive PR hype.
Public relations can be a rewarding and active profession. Some people are made for it. Some people thrive in it. I've recently found out that I do not. While some of my grievances lie in workplace culture (or lack thereof), there are some characteristics that are indicative of the entire field. I want to build something on my own, not answer to a client or to pander to society for the rest of my life.
*Header photo courtesty of Little Penguin Public Relations