CBS News Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen blasted the organizational communication/PR profession June 1, 2008 in a scathing piece titled, “The Flak Over Flacks.” If Cohen proved anything with this cynical and mean-spirited diatribe, he proved that he does not know what real organizational communication/PR is.
If you can stand it, read it at http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/06/01/sunday/main4142947.shtml.
Among his ridiculous pronouncements: “Apparently, an industry (PR) the very essence of which is to try to convince people that a turkey is really an eagle has a rule that condemns lying. The Public Relations Society of America states: ‘We adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing the interests of those we represent…’ This clause strikes me as if the Burglars Association of America had as its creed ‘Thou Shalt Not Steal.'”
For the record, Mr. Cohen, the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), the world’s largest truly international communication/PR professional association, has a viable code of ethics, too. Given his ignorance of communication/PR, I would not expect him to know that.
Cohen continues: “Show me a PR person who is ‘accurate’ and ‘truthful,’ and I’ll show you a PR person who is unemployed.” Oh, really!
But wait, folks, Cohen is not finished trashing the PR profession — and organizational communication and PR education: “The reason companies or governments hire oodles of PR people is because PR people are trained to be slickly untruthful or half-truthful. Misinformation and disinformation are the coin of the realm, and it has nothing to do with being a Democrat or a Republican.”
I have news for Mr. Cohen, if he has the mental capacity to absorb it. I worked as an organizational communicator/PR professional and consultant to organizations for over 30 years. Now I have the honor of being a university instructor in PR. I have never in all my years neither as a practitioner nor as a college professor ever instructed anyone to lie, spin, misrepresent, engage in half-truths, or to disseminate dis- or misinformation. To do so first and foremost would violate my personal and professional ethical code, the underpinning of my successful practice throughout my career. Second, in my role as mentor and/or instructor, it would constitute a severe disservice to those I would so instruct. It would be for them a career-limiting move.
So what set Cohen off? Former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan’s book about the Bush administration. But Earth to Cohen: McClellan was a presidential press secretary.
In my opinion, being a U.S. president’s press secretary has little resemblance to the actual jobs of hundreds of thousands of hard-working, honest and ethical, well-educated and prepared practitioners out there engaged in organizational communication/PR.
I am not saying, as Cohen did, that presidential press secretaries or others who practice political media relations, purposely are not ethical or honest. I believe that political press relations is a distinct area of practice that is quite different from organizational communication/PR that Cohen so ignorantly blasted.
I have a strong affection and respect for professionals who practice organizational communication/PR. They build and maintain mutually beneficial relationships with organizations’ key publics. They manage organizational reputations. They simply cannot do this by lying or misrepresenting organizations to publics. It is counter-intuitive.
I have had the honor of working with a host of highly-honorable and professional organizational communication/PR people for over 35 years. I do not know of a single time when a serious and experienced organizational communication/PR professional, me included, chose lying as a strategy. To do so is certain career suicide.
Enter PRSA. The board of directors of PRSA wrote a letter to Cohen which you can read at http://media.prsa.org/article_display.cfm?article_id=1176. I found this letter to be a tepid and incomplete response to the baseless, hurtful, and insulting accusations of Andrew Cohen. I expect better from PRSA, especially a more impassioned explanation and defense of what organizational communication/PR truly is.
IABC understands organizational communication/PR, but I fear that PRSA does not.