Tuesday, December 06, 2011

When PR is Too Public

A local long-time PR professional shared with me a post he saw on a local reporter's Facebook page.


It started by saying "[Reporter's name] has the BEST PR friends ever." Then it raved, with zeal of a freshman sorority girl, about the gifts received and expected from four named PR professionals.


My friend who sent the message didn't mince words about his reaction to this:


"I miss the days when PR people and journalists maintained some semblance of tension between their respective roles."


It's an interesting thought. Social media has changed much about how the media and PR professionals do their jobs, including the specific PR function known as media relations. There's no doubt that using Facebook and Twitter can enhance the ability to establish and maintain relationships with journalists. Reporters also have opportunity to establish more contacts, enhance their reporting, and make news outlets more personal than institutional.


In short, all the self-appointed social media gurus encourage everyone to be social.


But is it possible that public relations can be too public?


Part of me sees this as an extension of junior high, in which kids talk about who they are hanging out with, not as idle conversation, but to boast and make obvious that other kids are NOT hanging out with them or their really cool friends. Maybe that's not going on, but it leaves that impression.


I also wonder about public reaction. The most important value of publicity is third-party credibility. In other words, if its in the paper or on TV it must be "legitimate" news because it's not just something an organization says about itself. This is also called "uncontrolled" media. 


But if people start seeing stories about the same organizations that reporters have recently cooed about gleefully and transparently in social spaces, especially when it's been about the receipt of gifts, it's not surprising that they would doubt the validity of the story, the reporter, the media outlet and the organization being covered.


It also sends a bad message about public relations, that it's all about schmoozing and manipulation of the media. 


I'm all for the social aspects of social media as applied to any business. But I would hope that does not mean abandoning a sense of professionalism. It might not have to be a 'semblance of tension'  as my friend suggests, but it could at least emphasize actual news value.


If reporters and PR pros want to get into displays of personal affection, they should get a conference room.  



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