March 12, 2010

First, it was Representative Patrick Kennedy ranting about the news media not covering important subjects (Joan Kennedy said he was still upset about the death of his father), instead spending 24-7 on the messy resignation of Representative Massa (the PR gift that keeps on giving). Then it was Tiger Woods hiring former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer to help plot his public return to the golf arena. Today, it is a front page story in the New York Times about how Desiree Rogers, the soon-to-be-gone White House social secretary, who got in trouble for spending too much time on her own publicity instead of watching who entered White House parties. In the mean time, Toyota is proving to us daily how inept it is at handling its own PR mess Moving Forward as the new tagline? Hmmm. Add in New York’s Governor David Patterson’s growing PR conundrum, Tiger Woods PR implosion, Scotty Lago with his tacky photos from the Olympics and almost every bank and financial institution suddenly waking up to the fact that maybe they should pay attention to PR. Huh? (Shaking my head.) What gives?

What gives is that the round the clock media cycle world we live in today has no room for errors. In other words, it takes much longer to get out of the proverbial PR doghouse than it does to get in. In the old days, if you said something silly, racist or even, dare I say, lied, you had the liberty of calling your publicist to get you out of the jam. Not today and not ever again. Today, it is remarkable how many CEOS, politicians, celebrities and athletes simply don’t get it. Maybe because of a sense of entitlement or plain old stupidity, but whatever it is, itâ’s wearing us out and making us tired. It comes back to public relations; your relations to the public. A time honored practice that, when utilized correctly, can do wonders.

Public relations has been around for a long time. It is not new craft. Some say, in fact, the Greeks had a word for it, Sematikos: to signify, to mean. Semantikos became semantics, which can be defined as how to get people to believe things and do things. A fellow PR practitioner, Larry Litwin, takes a closer look when he looks at the history of PR:

In 50 B.C. Julius Caesar wrote the first campaign biography onhis military exploits to convince the Roman people that he would make the best head of state. In 1776, Thomas Paine wrote

The Crisis, a pamphlet which convinced the soldiers of Washington’s army to stay and fight at a time when so many were prepared to desert so they could escape the cold and the hardships of a winter campaign.

Warren Buffet said, “If you lose money for the company, I will be understanding. If you lose one shred of the company’s reputation, I will be ruthless.”

Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, commenting on the integrity of Army Chief-of-Staff George Marshall: “When General Marshall comes to talk to us, we forget whether we are Democrats or Republicans. We just remember that we are in the presence of a man who is telling the truth.”

Edward Bernays, generally regarded as the father of PR, advised the president of the new country of Czechoslovakia to announce independence on a Monday, rather than on a Sunday, to gain maximum press coverage.

Maybe I shouldn’t be shocked at the PR amateurs because it is really about human nature. But I still believe in the goodness of the profession and I’m glad I have been part of it for 35 years.