It would be easy to say that PR has somewhat of a bad reputation due to the misconceptions created by the probably the most well-known PR professional, Samantha Jones, from the TV show, Sex and the City. The show made it appear like Jones did nothing beyond attending parties, and, although attending events for networking is a crucial part of the industry, PR is so much more.
Let’s start at the root of Public Relations. Edward Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud, is often considered the “father of public relations.” In 1919, he developed the idea of the professional Public Relations Counselor, defining it as one who used social sciences in order to motivate and shape the response of a general or particular audience.
He engineered public relations efforts behind government coups, war efforts and even, campaigns to show kids that bathing could be fun by using sponsored soap sculpture competitions and soap floating contests.
However, if you look closer, PR was actually around long before Bernays. As long as there have been societies and governments, there has been PR, but known as something a little different – propaganda. Propaganda is the spreading of ideas, information, or rumour for the purpose of helping or, conversely, injuring an institution, a cause, or a person. The idea of mass manipulation as the foundation of any industry would give it a bad reputation, but PR has evolved away from the idea of issuing propaganda into something much greater.
The PR profession is the art and science of telling a product, company or individual’s story and ensuring that this story is seen and heard. It does still require a strong moral compass, in terms, of which clients will your agency promote and how far will you go for coverage. But the negative stigma surrounding PR is starting dissipate due to the value it provides a company and any top CEO or firm knows this.
In the wise words of Bill Gates, “If I was down to my last dollar, I would spend it on public relations.”