There really is more to PR than this…

Top marks to one of the CIPR Advanced Certificate class who spotted this profile of working as a publicist from The Guardian called “decent exposure”.

Sadly the piece does little more than portray a stereotype of luvvie London agency life.  But what can you expect when the previous profile of someone trained in shiatsu therapy was portrayed as the working life of a masseuse?

The article on Sophie Knight, of Shine Communications may actually tell us more about journalist Leo Benedictus.  He not only equates PR with publicity, but has a style of writing that is full of cliched detail.  This is evident in his descriptions throughout the piece, making it an interesting exercise in deconstructing language.

From “an open expanse of steel girders and glass brick” to “a froth of personalising clutter”, via the “rack of style magazines” to “Knight’s funkily dressed colleagues”, an image of PR is created.  And, it’s not one of strategic consultancy.

PR is presented as trying to “inveigle” marketing messages into the media by “creating a situation that the news will want to report on,” according to Ms Knight – the “grubby detail” as the journalist notes.

The entire approach to PR is presented as reacting to the current news agenda, which is ironic for the Adv Cert class as the guys had spent Saturday looking at the value of planning.  That included understanding evaluating PR is not simply getting excited by “hits”.

No offence to young Sophie, as she “didn’t plan to go into PR”, having studied environmental science at Oxford Brookes University.  Hence, the “the buzz, the music, the people” at Shine sold her on the profession.

It would be great if Sophie does decide to add some depth to her enthusiasm – not least as she has thought about the ethical aspects of her business.  She would undoubtedly benefit, like the current Adv Cert students, from not just seeing PR as something you shouldn’t do, but enjoy.

And maybe she’d realise that real PR practitioners are working with the news stories that so annoyingly affect the “hits” generated by the creative twaddle produced by too many agencies.

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.

3 thoughts on “There really is more to PR than this…”

  1. Hilarious!

    I’m sure Sopihe is a great PR practitioner, but somewhat ironically she is the one who falls prey to the ‘spin’ of the journalist in question.

    Quote from the article:

    “I AM COOL” says a note stuck to one of the monitors, in case its owner might need reminding.”

    The article paints a picture of PR being all style and no substance, but perhaps that is the angle of a piece – to create a broad and superficial picture of a profession.

    And another gem:

    “When you’ve created this idea and you’re ready to go and you’ve done your research and you sell it in [to a journalist] and get a feeling that it’s gone well and then some big news story fills several pages inside and knocks your story out of the paper and there’s no explanation you can give back to the client.”

    And then, and then, and then, and then, and then, and then… I can’t even imagine how one of her press releases reads.

    I hope other students who haven’t been planning to go into PR aren’t lured in to the profession under false expectations.

  2. Ben, I fear you are right from my knowledge of undergraduates studying PR, it is often the expectations of a glamourous career that entices them. Fortunately, most become “converted” to understanding that the power of PR lies in being able to influence organisational strategy rather than being a party organiser.

    I think that is one of the reasons why the “puppy farm” PR agencies increasingly recruit those like Sophie who don’t have any knowledge of what public relationscan achieve. They prefer to manipulate their enthusiasm – and as you say, ironically Sophie hasn’t realised that her exposure with a savvy journalist has similarly presented her as delivering style over substance.

    My own 4th year dissetation students are keen to build their careers in PR on the basis of substance over career. It is therefore very satisfying to hear that several of them have already received first job offers – outside the “puppy farms”.

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