JULY 14, 2018
Last year, the impudent British PR firm Bell Pottinger found itself on the front pages of the outlets it previously placed clients in. The firm was long known for taking on controversial clients and relishing in the “spin doctor” moniker that most PR teams abhor. The firm went too far in 2016, when it signed on the Guptas and became “embroiled in a national maelstrom,” according to the New York Times, and pushed a toxic narrative in South Africa that resulted in inflamed racial tensions and altogether bad PR. Ultimately, the firm laid off all 250 of its employees and filed for bankruptcy.
Though only halfway through 2018, we’ve already seen Hope Hicks’s dismissal of PR ethics with her “white lies” comments that worked to invalidate the public relations profession, and Weber Shandwick’s crisis management work for Michigan State University deal a serious blow to our profession. So, is PR just full of “spinmeisters” and flacks who will take on anyone as a client for any reason?
According to the Public Relations Society of America, “public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” That means PR should act as a management function and engage, influence and build relationships with stakeholders across multiple channels and outlets. Mutually beneficial means helping our clients tell their stories, while also helping them listen to stakeholders and the affected communities, which we can do across social media channels and through multiple research methods.
PR is not lying to the public, creating fake social media accounts or belittling victims in crisis management. As practitioners, we must act as responsible advocates for those we represent. We are also supposed to use our expertise to build mutual understanding and counsel our clients objectively and fairly.
At Wilbert, this also means not doing PR for PR’s sake. With social media constantly evolving, some people may think they should be on all channels, all the time. We counsel our clients to meet their key audiences where they already are. If you have a business-to-business objective, Snapchat is probably not where you need to be. As honest practitioners, it’s our role to advise you on that and not just agree with you to increase the retainer.
PR isn’t just about being honest though, it’s about relationships. We maintain relationships with the media, our clients, their audiences and the public. Our key markers of excellence at Wilbert are: Build Relationships; Work Together; Think Big; and Generate Results. There’s a reason that Build Relationships is No. 1. It’s not a crazy mission statement filled with big words and adjectives to make us sound sophisticated. It’s something we strive to do each day. Our relationships are important to us, and they’re important to our stakeholders. We don’t want to jeopardize our relationships with media by lying or misrepresenting a client, and we want to help our clients keep their audiences informed with up-to-date information to stop the spread of misinformation.
The silver lining of these terrible PR practitioners is that more PR professionals are mindful and vocal about what it takes to be in public relations. There will unfortunately still be the firms that invoke the “spray-and-pray” method of sending out one pitch to multiple journalists and hoping something sticks. There will also still be those who suggest high fees and then have no strategy involved in the process at all. But for those firms who have fought to show the value in PR and get that “seat at the table,” you can expect transparency. We’ll work hard to exceed expectations and meet objectives, all strategically planned to help drive your business forward.
At Wilbert, we’re redefining what PR is and challenging the stereotypes of the “spin doctors.” Under the leadership of a former journalist, we’re constantly engaging and building relationships with journalists not only to help secure coverage for our clients, but also to help the media tell their stories with the best resources available. With clients, we’re focused on creating a consistent drumbeat of news each day, and not only when it’s time for our monthly reports. You won’t find any flacks here; only active team members who are ethically practicing public relations.
The Wilbert Group
1718 Peachtree Street, Suite 1048
Atlanta, GA 30309
404 748 1250