Matter Chatter

I’d find it hard to believe that all journalists feel this way…

My colleague here at Matter, Nick Porter, sent me an article published by The Economist in the December 16 edition about the history and current state of the PR industry. While the examination of the start of the profession was undoubtedly interesting, the article was written in such a way that showed the writer had little if any respect for PR practitioners at all. At one point, the piece states that PR people “have been locked in an antagonistic, symbiotic relationship with journalists, with mutual contempt tempered by mutual dependency.” Both “wow” and “ouch” are appropriate responses here.

There’s no doubt that there have been more than enough PR people out there whose less-than-ethical tactics have tainted the industry as a whole. In fact, the Economist piece describes a few of the early instances where PR representatives for big corporations pulled the proverbial wool over the public’s eyes without remorse. But the fact is that labeling all PR people as “spin doctors” is unfair and irresponsible. Journalists may look upon PR people with contempt just because of their reputations, but I’d be willing to bet that most journalists have received help from a good PR guy or gal to get out of a bind on deadline, or secure that sound bite to round out their article right when they need it most.

The Economist article doesn’t only say negative things about the publicity profession – there are some nuggets of positivity worked in. However, after reading it, I had a bad taste in my mouth. Something just didn’t sit right and while everything in the piece seemed to be well thought out and well written, I just didn’t like how we’re portrayed. At Matter, we strive to be resources for the journalists with whom we work. And yes, there is a fine line between persistent PR person and annoying flack. But I’d like to think that by exercising some of the basic best practices of our profession, we avoid being looked upon as pariahs in a media landscape where PR people are needed now more than ever.

I’d love to hear what other people think about the article. Please feel free to get in touch with your thoughts or leave them in the comment box below.

  • Keith Trivitt

    Enjoyed your post, Andrew, especially since it is something PRSA has been speaking out against so fervently, particularly around The Economist article. I’m not sure if you saw this, but PRSA wrote a number of responses to The Economist article – both for a broader business audience and the profession – rebutting several of the derisive and misinformed points made in the article and advocating for the value of public relations.

    To give you a brief example:

    Immediately following the article’s release, we submitted a letter to the letter of The Economist (co-signed by John Paluszek, chair of the Global Alliance) rebutting several of the article’s points.

    That letter formed the basis of two published responses from PRSA: A blog post ( and an op-ed in ( We also let it be clearly known directly to The Economist, via an online comment to the article (, and several discussions with reporters and editors, that the article’s perspective was shortsighted, outdated and misinformed. It’s unfortunate that rather than presenting a more balanced and comprehensive analysis of where the profession actually is right now, The Economist chose to rely on outdated pejoratives to continue a myth that simply does not exist anymore.

    And it’s blog posts like this, what Frank Strong wrote (, and many others who stand up for truth, ethics, the business value of PR and serving the public good that will help to dispel these myths and ensure public relations retains its strategic value.

    BTW … Frank’s post has links to several other industry responses to the article that are worth a read, if anything, to be encouraged by the passionate manner in which PR professionals stand up for their colleagues and their business.

    Keith Trivitt
    Associate Director of Public Relations

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  • Frank Strong

    Andrew – thanks for speaking out. I couldn’t agree with you more and found your post via @keithtrivett. Here’s my own take: The Economist and PR: Stereotypes and Reflections

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