The semester moves on and I continue to try to finish my summer reading. As I said last week, I’m moving through Thinker, Faker, Spinner, Spy: Corporate PR and the Assault on Democracy which is a collection of essays edited by William Dinan and David Miller.
UK sociologists as far as I can figure out, the authors are single-minded with tunnel vision so I haven’t really been able to concur with their conclusion which is up front and in-your-face at the beginning of their first chapter: “Public relations was created to thwart and subvert democratic decision making.”
Well – that certainly puts us in our place now, doesn’t it?
Most public relations scholars (bright and knowledgeable academics themselves) have studied quite a different set of strategies it seems, and come up with quite a different perspective. They believe that PR actually contributes to the democratic process by providing the skills and strategy for communicating messages to those who do not possess such expertise. That contributes to free speech and public discourse so they say. So, who is right?
I suspect that the answer is that both are right. The characterization is quite situational in nature. Not all PR contributes to the democratic process, and not all interferes with it.
What we need to do in PR is to be aware of these kind of detractors – they’re a notch above the media types who denigrate PR just as a matter of course. These writers have actually researched this. The fact that they have their own spin to support their own hypothesis seems to be something they have ignored. They didn’t ask any PR scholars to contribute to this book. The contributors’ list reads like a who’s who of people who make their living criticizing PR and corporate communication.
Dinan and Miller’s book reminds me a bit of Joyce Nelson’s Sultans of Sleaze: Public Relations and the Media published in 1989 in Toronto. It’s now out of print, but I always suggest to my students that they read it if they can. It provides background on how our reputation got to be the way it is these days.
Now it’s up to the future practitioners in public relations to commit to professionalism – and get us out of this reputational mess. I’m thinking about retiring to a cruise ship myself.