An article in a leading English daily couple of days back led me to seriously question the motives of what I do for a living. The columnist conveyed her feelings about the pretentious ways of public relation practitioners who take advantage of certain events and festivities to drum up media awareness for their own organisation’s brand and presence in the public’s eye.
She referred to the recent Earth Hour event as an example. She pointed out how companies’ corporate communication and PR personnel and departments were shamelessly sending out press releases to media agencies to highlight their respective promotions, events and activities in conjunction with the related event. She claimed that these companies only had the interest of their brands in mind and not truly contributing to the real issues at hand.
I was clearly the subject of her criticism; over the years in carrying out my work and services, on behalf of those who provide my income, I unashamedly sent out gazillions of pre-event announcements, media invitations, and post-event media releases not just for Earth Hour, but also during Chinese New Year, Christmas, Deepavali, Ramadhan and Hari Raya.
Don’t forget the countless corporate social responsibility initiatives over the years that I have distributed media releases over the last two decades; save the Orang Utans, clean the polluted river, help the orphanages, build homes for the Orang Asli, road safety campaigns, and many others I’m guilty of.
My abilities – and continued livelihood – were measured by how many releases I sent out, how many were received, how many media representatives turned up and how many publications ran the news. No, my paymasters were essentially not concerned about whether the Earth would live another 2,000 years longer; the Somalis would have another 300 houses; the sharks would live longer in the ocean.
They were instead concerned about the number of reporters and photographers that attended the event, the number of words published in tomorrow’s papers; how many seconds the CEO was featured on the prime time news.
Defined loosely, PR is “the profession or practice of creating and maintaining goodwill of an organisation’s public image, usually through publicity and other nonpaid forms of communication, including support of arts, charitable causes, education, sporting events, and other civic engagements”.
For a formal definition, the Public Relations Society of America declares public relations as “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organisations and their publics.”
So as corporate communication specialists, are we wrong in utilising our talent and skills towards fulfilling the expectations of organisations that we work for as so defined above?
Now, if we did not carry out our role to disperse information out to the media and subsequently the public, would we ever know about how millions of corporations are standing by WWF’s efforts to overcome climate change around the world?
It was in the news that we read about United Nations having turned off the lights for one hour at its Headquarters in New York and other facilities around the world. This was from a press release.
It was the local newspapers that we found out that our own Prime Minister declared his support for any efforts at the international level to reduce global warming, even the PM’s official residence, Seri Perdana, having participated in the event. This was also from a press invitation to attend an event he was present at.
So now I’m left confused; her newspaper runs articles generated from press releases and media invites, which help keep them informed about latest events, activities and news. But now she’s asking PR people to stop distributing news to her?
I think I need some “lights out time” to ponder over my life’s progress!