Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Taking Offense With the Princeton Review, part 1

The Princeton Review, which bills itself as "a leading provider of test preparation and educational support services" has a wonderfully Ivy League-sounding name. After all, what parent or prospective college student doesn't want to be considered "Princeton material?"

Turns out, The Princeton Review pretty much exists to prepare students to get better scores on their standardized tests. Which is fine. I have no problem with that. What I DO have a problem with is how they describe potential careers to young, impressionable students. In particular, the over-simplified, unsophisticated and dumbed-down information that they perpetrate about my chosen field -- public relations -- has me hopping mad, and (since I have this blog to blow off some steam) I feel the need to respond.

Here's how it begins: A public relations specialist is an image shaper. Their job is to generate positive publicity for their client and enhance their reputation. If you are a PR pro, you probably stopped and puked when you read "image shaper." If you speak the English language, you either had a little chuckle or just shook your head about the antecedent problem with the penultimate word. If you are writing this load of crap for The Princeton Review, you probably have no idea what I am talking about.

But worst of all, if you are a high school student thinking about making a monumental life decision by choosing a career, you are probably thinking that PR is a fluffy job with no real accountability for achieving solid, measurable results -- one big "truth-be-damned, let the good times roll" kind of a job.

It's time we as PR pros let people know just what it is that we DO for our clients. Here's the short version (pay attention Princeton Review): Public Relations is about communicating and building relationships. We build relationships for our clients with all of their important audiences and stakeholders. These relationships help our clients to do what it is that they do, better, more efficiently, and more effectively. Often that means helping them to sell more products or services. Just as often, it means communicating their vision and direction with their employees, so that they, in turn, see that they have a stake in the client's success, and are motivated to help the client to do more, do it better, and do it more effectively.

Our success usually depends on us developing relationships for our clients with their customers. This is often accomplished as a result of relationships that we have fostered with the press. These days, we can often encourage relationships and engage directly with customers, through social networking sites and other Internet venues.

Is "image shaping" a part of this? Of course it is. But calling PR pros "image shapers" is pretty much akin to calling doctors "pill prescribers." In both cases, those tasks are essential to our ultimate goals, but hardly the goal in and of itself.

I could go on and on for hours on this topic. Oh, and notice that I've only taken issue with The Princeton Review's opening sentences. There is more -- much more -- that I can say (that part about telling lies? Putting a "warm and fuzzy spin on a company's latest oil spill?" AAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!), but it will have to wait for another day.

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