Sunday, October 6, 2013

Do PR Firms Wear the White Hat?

Nick Rees

As a journalism student squarely focused on magazine writing as a future career, my experience with the term "public relations," or PR, is limited.

PR is a field responsible for shaping or fixing an individual or company’s public image. That image helps the public in its decision whether to trust the person or not. These are the shapers of our opinions. Their work creates the image we as the public gobble up without question.

It's not the term that tends to confuse, but how these professionals actually handle their business that leaves some wondering. Do these individuals wear the white hat of morality and goodness or are they willing to bend the rules to get the job done?


Being a modern man with a social media obsession, I turn to cultural references to
Courtesy of Huffington Post
understand confusing concepts. When confronting the idea of PR or public relations, I immediately looked to the ABC show "Scandal."

For those without background knowledge of the characters or plot of this fantastic show, it revolves around a political fixer, Olivia Pope, and her team of skilled associates. The show, set in Washington, D.C., focuses on Pope’s work to help power players with everything to lose save themselves from ruin.

Her skills come in the form of setting the perfect angle or possibly making another person involved in the situation look worse. In a nutshell, Olivia Pope fixes the entire situation and saves the individual’s public image.

Most people don’t realize that this character is based upon a true D.C. fixer dealing in everything PR. This Washington Post article highlights Judy Smith’s career and similarities to the character and her admirable work in public relations.


Now we need to discuss the true intentions of a PR person. Does he or she actually wear the white hat? Or does he or she have flexible morals?

When shaping an individual’s public image, there must be some form of ethical code in place. The PR expert must have lines that he or she won't cross. Is lying acceptable if the blame can be shifted away? One must ask themselves how far he is willing to go.

The public needs and wants reassurance that a person or company under fire is actually reliable and trustworthy. Public relations experts focus on gaining that credibility and restoring the trust of the public.

Nowadays the truth has become a figment of many imaginative minds. Some individuals might not have the moral or ethical codes to significantly stretch the truth, but that doesn’t mean others do not. An individual’s image might not always reflect the truth, especially when he is willing to do anything to protect it.


When talking about public relations and the ability to better someone’s public image, it’s crucial to present the opposing side of the argument. Several cases in the last year were
Courtesy of MetroCooking Houston
PR disasters on a level that has marked them as extreme situations.

The public images of Paula Deen, Lance Armstrong and Abercrombie & Fitch are examples of tarnished reputations. This article highlights the failures of each to recuperate his or her image. These disasters occurred because of statements that were made without thought and then not properly handled.

Although PR experts don’t always wear the white hat of justice or fairness, these people certainly come in handy in a crisis.

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