This not meant to be a political post, or at least not one with a partisan or ideological edge to it.
It's meant rather to draw attention to a few worrying developments - some from the political world, some from business or government - about the use of "PR" in ways that could be considered unethical, unprofessional and possibly illegal.
I was actually mulling this before a post (below) from influential pundit and geopolitical commentator Fareed Zakaria specifically calling out professional associations for what so far has been an anaemic response to a basket-full of jumbled up issues: fake news, fact-checking, algorithmic searches, echo chambers, hacking, leaking and, more generically, "propaganda."
I'm not here to say these are necessarily new, or confined to the US, or to assign culpability.
But when I see terms like propaganda associated casually with the modern-day PR profession (or discipline or craft or industry - also not a focus of debate in this post), I see flashing warning lights.
The global PR community is replete with highly professional practitioners, associations, agencies and academics who have worked tirelessly to establish an ethical, valuable and responsible approach to connecting organizations and the publics they serve.
To stand idly by while events, technology and cynicism knock all of that down to leave something ugly and corrosive in its place is not something I can do. We have much to lose.
So without being overly proscriptive, here are some things I hope we'll do together in 2017 as we plan our various conferences, summits, agency meet-ups, white papers and reports:
- review and update professional and industry codes of ethics
- re-evaluate practices and services in light of new technologies and applications
- disavow unethical or irresponsible communications clearly and visibly
- investigate and publish data related to consequences of questionable journalism and communications
- promote best practices for and celebrate great examples of socially responsible communications
- collaborate more closely (formally and informally) among consultancies, universities, government agencies and businesses
Now is not a time to be a bystander in PR.
Guilds and other professional associations have lost nearly all moral authority and have become highly competitive and insecure organizations, whose members do not — and probably cannot — afford to act in ways that serve the public interest. In the media — the only industry protected explicitly in the Constitution — a tradition of public interest ownership and management aspired to educate the public. Today’s media have drifted from this tradition.