Truth is free. Image costs money

14 April 2006

The minor storm over Julia Hobsbawm's Editorial Intelligence project that attempted to forge links between hacks and flacks in the UK that were stronger than most people wanted to stomach has mostly abated. And it's left me with a niggling little question: are PRs so obsessed with their own image that they will promote themselves out of a job?

Christina Odone questioned the moral equivalence between journalists and PRs at the end of a column in the Guardian on Monday. In summary, hacks go out to tell the truth; PRs attempt to hide it. This prompted a certain amount of moral outrage among PRs such as Stuart Bruce, who claimed that stories get spun as much, if not more, by the media than by PRs.

Now, put yourself in the shoes of someone buying PR services. You have two people in front of you. One comes from the Max Clifford school of PR:

We only want what is in the best interests of our clients, who pay us vast sums of money, and to achieve that we are deceitful, creative and economic with the truth, often hiding it.

The other comes out with the currently fashionable line, as spouted by people like Paul Taaffe of Hill & Knowlton, that the Internet has changed everything, that there is no place to hide the truth. You need transparency in everything.

Now, to which one do you give your money? Who needs to pay a PR when you can just 'fess up everything on your blog, if that is, indeed, all it takes to maintain your reputation? People remember for a long time the consequences for companies when their executives sound like they had their dessert wine spiked with sodium pentothal. I suspect most people will go with the Clifford school of thought. Although they might wave the transparency banner in public. To keep up appearances, you understand.