Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Poison Ivy

Jordan Siler

Truth or "Truthfulness"
Referenced in the article, Truthfulness in communication is both a reasonable and achievable goal for public relations practitioners, Ivy Lee is one of the founding fathers of public relations. According to the article, "he became adept at creating dishonest impressions from factual statements." And, I imagine, this is why it did not take very long for him to receive the nickname "Poison Ivy," coined by author Upton Sinclair. Obviously, being referred to as a plant that causes itchy rashes is not the greatest endorsement to one's character. Unfortunately, although many PR professionals have strived to change this image, this idea of PR seems to stick in the minds of the public, and today it is more important than ever to maintain an honest and ethically sound credo when doing PR.

PR has a PR Problem
In an article that appeared in the New York Times, Spinning Frenzy: PR's Bad Press, journalist Timothy O'Brien discusses how PR is adjusting in the internet revolution and states that "despite an avalanche of freely available information, the truth is becoming harder to find." It is interesting that although all of this information is now freely available to the general public, the level of public distrust is constantly rising. Not that there isn't reason, with the recent Facebook scandal, people are constantly reminded of the twists and spins put on by PR firms and big corporations. Although there are many PR firms that are honest, they do not make the news for good decisions made, just the bad ones. In his article, O'Brien quotes Brenda J. Wrigley, an associate professor of public relations at Syracuse University. "PR has a PR problem," said Wrigley. "We have to get our own house in order before we go around advising corporations what to do. We are advocates and there's not shame in that as long as it's grounded in ethics and values." Wrigley makes a great point, and really sums up a lot about the need for truth in PR. My general thought is, the public knows what the PR job entails, so do not make it any easier for them to make you look bad. And, the ethics behind it is an important part to. I really like how in David Martinson's article, he makes the point that a PR professional should not release anything that would make them upset if they were the one's receiving the information. It makes sense.

Seeking Truth vs. Seducing the Truth Seekers
In an article in the Financial Times (out of London), author John Lloyd addresses the difference between journalism and PR. "Public relations and journalism do not inhabit separate worlds; in particular, the relationship between them is not that of sleazy liars seeking to seduce seekers after truth," writes Lloyd. He argues that in order to understand one, you have to get the other. Basically, both rely on each other. However, it is important to keep them separated, as it is important to keep the truth separate from the "not truths." It is like with the VNR's, and how they are not along the typical ethical guidelines of an unbiased and fair report. They do not belong in news stories because they do not contain the news.

Avoiding Dilemmas
The PRSSA blog offers a great post about how to avoid five common ethical dilemmas that often come up for interns. I highly suggest reading it, as it addresses many topics that PR professionals often have to deal with.

In Conclusion
It seems it will always be an up-hill battle for those who practice public relations. Trying to avoid ethical dilemmas while attempting to successfully represent your client is a tricky practice. There is not much difference between telling a lie and twisting the truth, therefore, in order to avoid Poison Ivy, just go with the plain and simple truth.

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