Monday, April 2, 2007

Image Problems: "PR Clean Up In Aisle 12"

We have a mess in aisle 12.

As I mentioned in my discussion of newspapers, we Americans are demanding new ways. We are using technology to voice these demands and not just as consumers of media, but as citizens of the government, as consumers of products, and as receivers of messages that corporations send.

We don't want slick presentations which gloss over (omit) important (or 'bad') facts. We don't believe everything we read or what we are told (even if a friend told us, for they may not have seen through the BS). We don't fall for slight-of-hand ~ even to the point of claiming to see such tricks when none are being used. We've become a jaded lot, that's for sure. We're pointing to the mess in aisle 12, calling it disgusting, and insisting that it be cleaned up or we're outta here.

In fact, we no longer want to be receivers only; we want conversations. We demand them.

In a capitalistic society corporations take the brunt of these demands for they are not just the makers of products, the 'things' behind media, and the groups behind lobbying and political agendas; they are makers of ideas, philosophies, and attitudes. As such, they are vilified ~ sometimes correctly so, but just being a company now makes you circumspect. People are saying, "business is flat out corrupt."

The mess in aisle 12 has led so many to believe the whole of business is to be condemned.

In our cultural shift from consumers who are at the receiving end of corporate-speak to those involved in conversations we are demanding that we not be 'sold' anything. Not a gizmo, not a political agenda (or war), and most certainly we don't want to be told/sold a way of life. But that doesn't mean we as consumers are saying 'death' to all products, companies or media. We'll say 'no' with a raised eyebrow to those who are slow to take our demands seriously, and speaking with our wallets we will hurt and close more than a few companies along the way. But not all of them.

Those companies and organizations which communicate with us rather than at us ~ and which take the consumers desires and needs to heart, incorporating them into products and operations ~ these are the ones which will thrive.

It is natural in our society where the modus operandi makes PR, marketing and advertising professionals the faces and voices of corporations that these professions will also be vilified. It for this reason as well as our job duties that we be the ones to clean up the aisles and talk about it along the way. It is not only imperative that we in these professions change our ways, attitudes and actions, but that corporations themselves allow us to change; their corporate lives depend upon this. (And if our companies won't change, then we need to move on to ones who welcome the changes too.)

The largest thing which must be changed are the definitions of our work. As I see it, it's not something new we are to do, but return to or reclaim our truest, purest definitions. You'll see some of them scattered about this blog, but here are a few as reminders:

Marketing: finding out what customers want, then setting out to meet their needs, provided it can be done at a profit. Marketing includes market research, deciding on products and prices, advertising promoting distributing and selling.

Public Relations: the acts of communicating what you are to the public.

Advertising: advertising is the paid promotion of goods, services, companies and ideas by an identified sponsor in order to induce the public to buy (a product or idea) or otherwise invest in it.

Notice how none of these definitions includes "swindling, "conning," "lies," or "bull shit" in them.

None of the definitions are ambiguous.

Nor, in our capitalistic society is any one of them inherently evil.

But within our current culture shift, each term has negative connotations. That's not so surprising. Astonishingly, however, is the fact that these are connotations which so many professionals in these fields accept and convey themselves. Where's the pride? Their integrity?

Yes, I use the moniker The Marketing Whore and the tag line, "I'm a dirty, dirty marketer," in a tongue in cheek fashion (especially since I do much of my work in adult areas of commerce); but I honestly don't believe that what I do is dirty or bad. Then again, I don't believe that exchanging money, goods or services for sex is bad either ~ it's the one place where honesty truly prevails: We sell you sex and deliver it.

I have no shame over the industry or the profession of marketing. Why? Because what I do is an honest days work for an honest wage. I have products (books, websites, publications) which fit consumer needs and I do my best to reach those people who have desire &/or need for these products. I offer good product, at fair prices, and I do my best to clearly communicate that to my target market and discuss with them how they feel about it. I don't feel there is anything bad or wrong about that.

But why do so many professionals and those who state they are getting their educations in these fields saying such bad things about the very professions they want to be a part of?

Why do they, as Rob posted, say that "PR" is "propaganda, bullshit, "suck-Satan's-cock jobs" (from Bill Hicks fans), spin, or anything presented under false pretense"?

Why does Rob say PR "requires one to have fewer scruples than in another chosen field"? Well,presumably answers this by saying, "Client interests and monetary incentives often trump the thin skin of business ethics." As if this is just how business is done.

Clearly Rob and those like him are part of the very jaded crowd who see those relating with the public on the behalf of a company (or person) as having to tow a very heavy, dirty company line. But that's only true in companies which are dirty or which have bad business practices. This is not all business.

Yeah, there are some really bad apples, but those aren't the only apples. So not all marketing & PR (departments or persons) are horse-apples; neither are all such efforts or projects the slinging of horse-apples.

If this is really your view of business and the world, then why on earth are you in or entering these professions?

We have a mess in aisle 12. Are you going to clean it up or not? Are you part of the solution or the problem? Standing there stating the obvious is only adding additional clutter and noise.

I don't mean to sound like I am just picking on Rob here ~ he was the one brave enough to post his thoughts and questions here, but he speaks for a huge number of people (unfortunately). Including those in the fields, teaching the professionals.

Things have been deemed so bad, that they are changing the names of careers and duties. No longer "Marketing" and "PR," students enter "Strategic Communications" and apply "risk communication." They study "Public Diplomacy" with hopes to get paid for "reputation management," etc. First of all, none of these names sounds any better ~ they are more Mumbo-Jumbo & Gobbledygook clogging up the very filters we seek/need to employ. They only add to the problem. Second, a whore by any other name fools no one. We need to clean up the aisles and do real honorable work, not change names; this requires action.

Marketing, advertising and public relations are noble professions ~ on two conditions:

A) That you truly keep the consumer in mind when creating product/services/causes and communicate with these consumers at every opportunity throughout the life of your company.

B) That you only work for those companies, persons and projects which embody these philosophies and actions.
That's pretty simple.

How you communicate in a noble fashion is the subject of further postings. But even with checklists, if you don't believe in what you are doing, you are only adding to the image problem. So, I beg of thee, if you don't believe get out and stay out.

And yes, you may need to turn down a 'big wonderful career opportunity,' and the money that goes along with it, for the sake of your values. And I truly hope you have to do this at least once in your life ~ because like dumping the user boyfriend or the bad-news girlfriend, you'll appreciate the feeling and find a happier place.

If you don't turn down these soul-less, dirty companies and jobs then you not only whore your soul but seek to sully others. Ick.

Many of us are filled with integrity and have excitement regarding what we do. Sure, it's a pretty big mess, but look at all the help we have! Consumer complaints are advice; both our agenda (to-do lists) and our inspiration. And technology's cool tools are our methods. What more could we ask for?

Many of us in marketing look forward to this cultural shift enabled by technology in which we can talk with our customers and fill their needs. We are happy to roll-up our sleeves and clean up the mess others have left in aisle 12 because we know what will remain: gleaming walkways to our products and services which consumers will happily walk up, select what's right for them, and tell us what's so wonderful and where we can improve. Now that's exciting.

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