Tuesday, January 06, 2009

WSJ Repeats Tired Portrait of PR

A Wall Street Journal book review of "Where's My Fifteen Minutes" by Howard Bragman had me feeling mixed.

On the one hand, reviewer Toby Young is right to point out that many of Bragman's tips amount to stunts and tricks and actually contradict his introductory statement that good PR people ensure their clients tell the truth. It's people like Bragman, who is a founder of the Entertainment PR firm Bragman Nyman Cafarelli, who continue to perpetuate the notion that PR is all about image. It's striking that the review uses the term "press agent," which is something the profession tried to move away from way back in the 1920s with the efforts of Edward Bernays, Ivy Lee, and Arthur Page, who proposed the term "public relations counsel." Back then the profession was associated with Broadway and used faked kidnappings of actresses and other stunts to get press attention for shows. Lee offered principles for honest media relations. Page was the first VP of public relations at AT&T and still noted for his principles.

But just as in the 1920s, the media has none of it. Young responds to Bragman's description of PR as an honest profession as "complete rubbish, of course." Of course? Why is there such certainty that ALL PR is ALWAYS bad ALL the time? Why can't Young see that there are PR people who do live up to the ideals of honest, two-way communication used to facilitate mutual relationships?

Perhaps it's because, as the bionote on his review informs us, he is "currently appearing as a judge on 'Top Chef,' a food reality show on Bravo."

That might explain why he follows the tried and true recipe for painting the PR profession with a broad brush, setting up straw men, looking at specific anecdotes and drawing general conclusions. He throws out the broth with the bones.

Bragman's book is laughable for suggesting that the gimmicks used for Hollywood starlets could garner attention for a city councilman in Iowa. The lessons may actually flow the other way.

But Young's review is laughable for suggesting that Bragman speaks for all of us. Would that this chef had examined the varied ingredients in our broad profession. Unfortunately, his stew of a review has a hint of truth, but is missing something that would make it more satisfying. .

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