A day in the life of: Art journo versus PR specialist (2009)

It’s amazing what one hears when you give some people a Venetian mask...

While chatting with an art journo colleague in Europe, I mentioned about ADP and how there’s a group focused on Critical PR—in the PR field. I’m supporting it as PR becomes increasingly powerful and one element of hope to bring forth positive change is stronger self-regulation.

OK, I may be a dreamer, but here was her reply:

"Critical PR sounds rather interesting but odd to me. I am routinely pissed off at PRs—mostly because they are shit at their jobs.

They take forever to send proper information or images. They are slow and incompetent. They certainly have their agendas but, when they work well, they facilitate writers lives by simply informing them of the existence of possible stories. I find it incredibly easy to tell who is being sincere and who is just selling. I find it equally easy to work through the hype. A book on Edward Bernays is something I definitely plan to read but an academic field criticizing PR seems a bit much. Or am I missing something? What is the underlining point?"

I then asked a PR specialist to reply and also gave this person a Venetian mask…

“An interesting comment. The author is correct up to a point. Sure, about 80% of the PR still operates heavily on the Bernays model. (And I would agree that incompetence is perhaps more widespread because too many PR people are barely media savvy or even basically literate.)

But the other 20% has taken it to a far slyer level where it’s not always easy to work through the hype. For example, the PR person can actually control timing and pace of the message. And, today’s social/digital media environment can be manipulated so convincingly as to throw false shadows (i.e. conspiracy theorists) even capable of tripping up the self-proclaimed astute BS detector. (Editorial note: Consider for example Preece’s experience/article “Caught out on Abu Dhabi” and the number of people who have signed onto the place… Some, not all, probably regret it.)

Seeking to soothe the nerves of a skittish client in any setting, discipline or industry, the cleverly wise PR person sees the opportunistic incentive to be more – not less – transparent (of course, on their own terms). In other words, if you can’t beat them online, then join them. And, it’s the 20% who get how the Internet has inverted the ‘social physics of information’ …” Hmmm, you know about that, right?

For these 20% of practitioners, your thinking is exactly where they want you to be…"

Happy writing...!