Why Do PR People Always Have to Live Up to the Negative Stereotypes?

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Sorry, but I’m a little frustrated. Michael Brown’s FEMA e-mail trail makes me physically ill — and it’s made worse by the fact that his communications team apparently egged this incompetent on.

The worst moment was when Brown’s press secretary, Sharon Worthy, advised him to roll up his sleeves “just below the elbow.” Wrote Worthy: “In this crisis and on TV you just need to look more hard-working … ROLL UP THE SLEEVES.”

That’s it? LOOK more hard-working?

Sharon, why not advise Brown of the complaints that were pouring in about his performance from Day 1? Why not tell him that it was critical that he substantively address these complaints by improving his performance? That’s part of what a communications executive is supposed to do.

But that’s not all. We also have Cindy Taylor, FEMA’s deputy director of public affairs, e-mailing Brown after a TV interview: “You look fabulous — and I’m not talking the makeup.”

Barf bag, please.

This kind of unseemly sucking up is certainly not limited to PR execs — but we often seem to distinguish ourselves in this department.

Personally, I don’t have the stomach for it and never have. In times when I’ve been required to play this game (and it’s happened), I’ve found a new situation before too long.

Several months ago, a recruiter for a Fortune 500 company contacted me about a senior VP position reporting to the CEO. Even though I love my Idea Grove, I decided to take the interview. If nothing else, perhaps it could lead to some consulting work.

When I met with the overly enthusiastic HR VP, she said this about the CEO: “If he told me to dye my hair purple, I’d dye my hair purple.” I was reminded of the scene in Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room when the delirious female exec advised employees to invest their entire 401(k) balances in Enron stock.

It doesn’t have to be this way, folks; take my word for it.

If you hold yourself with dignity and aren’t afraid to state your opinion, you will ultimately find an employer and/or clients that respect you for it.

And by actually contributing rather than nodding enthusiastically in the corner, you will improve the less-than-superlative image of our profession in the process.

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About the author

Scott Baradell
Scott, president of Idea Grove, oversees one of the fastest-growing and most forward-looking public relations and inbound marketing agencies in the southwestern United States. Idea Grove focuses on helping technology companies reach media and buyers; and its clients range from venture-backed startups to Fortune 200 companies. Scott launched Idea Grove in 2005 along with his groundbreaking blog, Media Orchard. He has been a consistent innovator in the public relations and marketing space. Scott was among the first to understand the role of blogging in audience building. He was quick to recognize the vital importance of content quality and the power of social sharing. Most significantly, he developed a system that integrates public relations, content creation, social and search marketing, and conversion rate optimization into a program that produces hard-dollar results for clients.

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One thought on “Why Do PR People Always Have to Live Up to the Negative Stereotypes?

  1. PR Hits, misses and close calls

    I couldn’t agree with your comments more. Being professional means standing up for what you believe in and having faith in your judgement and skills. Sometimes it’s difficult expressing views, or putting forward ideas, that are contrary to the views/ideas of others in the organisation. But we’re communication experts – find positive ways to put forward ideas and suggestions that may not be readily accepted.

    Each time I’ve held firm and stood by my views and suggested course of action, I’ve gained the respect of senior management. Even when I’ve been wrong!

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