I strongly dislike it when people ask about my major. Sometimes I simply say, “I’m a journalism major,” but that isn’t the whole truth. Why do I shy away from telling people I’m going to school for public relations? I hate the question because of the look people give when I answer, or even worse, the many questions and comments made after. No, I will not lie about things for my company because I’m on the payroll. No, I will not “spin” everything. Please don’t talk about BP.
I don’t believe this is just a problem I face. There are a lot of public relations professionals and students alike getting a bad reputation simply because of their job title. An article from BBC News touched on the irony of public relations having this sort of problem. As I’ve heard countless times, public relations has a public relations problem and this problem is making it hard for people to take it seriously as a profession.
This is not just a recent issue stemming from the various stunts and terrible mistakes PR professionals have made in the recent past. This problem stems all the way back to when public relations was in its infancy. Edward Bernays, the first man to teach classes on PR, published a book in 1928 titled “Propaganda.” In it he expounds on his idea that people who manipulate the masses are the true government.
What word keeps occurring? Manipulation. Let us take a moment and understand this word. The Merriam-Webster dictionary gives definitions that don’t give this word a good connotation. The definitions include words like “insidious” and “unfair.” Exploit is a synonym. No wonder public relations isn’t seen in the best light.
Not to mention the nickname. Public relations professionals are often referred to as “Spin Doctors.” I found an article online and the title said it all: “Public Relations (Spin Doctors) Deliberately Deceived Public About Global Warming and Climate Change.”
Sure, public relations professionals dress in business clothes. The profession has its own terminology, its own major and its own organizations. In some cases, the PR professionals have a management function. This is all good, but why is the profession still not respected? I’d be so bold as to say public relations has an honesty problem. The only way public relations practitioners can be taken seriously is by first, gaining the trust of the public. How does one do that? Through honesty. PR Web suggested, “Honesty shouldn’t be your best policy, it should be your only one.”
Simply having a code of ethics doesn’t make you ethical. We need to actually be committed to honesty and truth in all public relations endeavors. I guess this means I’ll have to start being more specific when people ask me about my major.