Saturday, October 6, 2007

Slings and Arrows

Usually I can absorb the slings and arrows of outrageous ignorance when it comes to the views of so many in the general public about the public relations profession. But sometimes I can't. Today is one of those days.

A columnist in the local Gannett newspaper chain here in New Jersey, Michael Riley, was offered a job in PR. He wrote about his horror at the thought of coming over to what he certainly perceives as "The dark side of the force" in today's column.

I just had to respond. Here's the email I just dashed off to Mr. Riley:

Mr. Riley,

I’m (usually) a big fan. In fact, just this morning, I roused my 16-year-old son from “my chair” at the kitchen table, specifically so I could “read Riley.”

That said, where do you get off denigrating the public relations profession? Your ignorance about what PR is, what it does for so many people, and the contributions the profession makes to society and the economy is, frankly, astounding.

In the spirit of full disclosure: I’ve been in PR for over 20 years, and I own a mid-sized PR agency in Bridgewater. Let me tell you just a few of the things that my agency has done over those years, and I’ll try to avoid unnecessary adjectives and adverbs like the “horribly terrible bubonic plague of olden times.” (No, I didn’t miss the slight). Here are a few:

- We mobilized a grass roots campaign that moved the New Jersey state legislature to change an antiquated law that was resulting in the unnecessary deaths of babies in need of heart transplants.
- We conceived and orchestrated a national educational effort on the dangers of teen and pre-teen abuse of inhalants, or “huffing” as they call it.
- We helped to bring about regulations that are now protecting at-risk populations (the elderly, the profoundly handicapped, etc.) through the mandated installation of fire sprinklers in residential settings.
- We have given voice to the needs of those recovering from the ravages of substance abuse, resulting in programs and regulations that are keeping more and more off drugs and in good, taxpaying jobs.
- We helped to overcome decades-old political opposition so that people in three suburban New York counties can now receive life-saving cardiac care without having to leave the state or travel to Manhattan.
- And yes, we have helped companies sell things from cameras to air horns, helping to keep a lot of people well employed, and able to feed their families.

I could go on, but I’m hoping you get the point.

Sure, there are some amateurs in public relations. But, by and large, most of the people I know in PR are real pros who know communication, and who take great pride in their work. You could do a hell of a lot worse than to “take such a job.” In fact, many journalists do successfully transition into PR, and go on to live happy, fulfilled lives. I know because some of them work for me. And not a week goes by that I don’t get a resume from a journalist seeking to go down “that particular rabbit hole.”

So, Riley, lighten up, and c’mon down off your high horse. But if you still want to go “toe-to-toe” on how journalism is somehow more noble than public relations, I have two words for you and your profession: Britney Spears.


John Lonsdorf
R&J Public Relations, LLC
Bridgewater, NJ

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