There are some very interesting views expressed as a result of Toni Muzi Falconi‘s Leader’s Perspective at Strumpette, where he argues for professional licensing of PR practitioners. Further reflection takes place at PR Conversations.
The discussion has spread to my 2 cents covering both ethics, and distinguishing PR from marketing.
I’m always reminded of Edward Bernays in this matter – who called for licensing in the 1992 when he was 100 years old. In many respects, Bernays’ argument has merit – but his views highlight the challenges too. Ewan cites Bernays as critical of the fact that anyone can say they work in PR, countering:
“Whereas, by my definition, a public relations person, who calls themselves [sic] that, is an applied social scientist who advises a client or employer on the social attitudes and actions to take to win the support of the publics upon whom his, or her, or its viability depends.”
But Bernays was seeking differentiation to underline that those working in PR should be “a member of that intellectual elite which guides the destiny of society”.
This might sound like working in the “public interest”, but in practice, acted to protect the interests of a select few – primarily government and big business. No wonder that PRWatch (citing from Toxic Sludge Is Good For You: Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton) says:
Bernays’s celebration of propaganda helped define public relations, but it didn’t win the industry many friends.
I think the starting point for professional public relations is a recognition that we already are regulated – by a wide variety of laws. Secondly, we need to take personal responsibility and not only adhere to ethical values, but to stand up against things we feel are wrong.
Between the societal and personal levels of regulation, PR has a role in ensuring organisations act responsibly, and then there is the professional level of responsibility, in relation to representative bodies and our commitment to our chosen career.
Although you don’t need to be licensed to work in PR, you can certainly be professional in your practice. I would like to think that gaining a licence might help improve the reputation of PR – but there will still be poor practitioners with licences (like bad drivers, unethical lawyers and unskilled doctors).
There is certainly much to debate on the topic – what do you think?