Quite often PR practitioners get a bad press, whether it's talk of spin or pestering journalists with non news. Some sections of the media will always have an ambivalent attitude to PRs and I can understand that especially when you're being bombarded with 400 press releases a day, of which perhaps 10% are relevant. I do think good PR people do an important job (but then I would say that wouldn't I) but occasionally you see something that makes you catch your breath and hang your head in shame at the actions of other supposed PR 'professionals'.
Firstly, I was gobsmacked an interview I heard on Radio 4's PM the day the dreadful news about Baby P broke. Sharon Shoesmith, who chairs the Haringey Local Safeguarding Children Board was questioned about how social workers had managed to have the wool pulled over their eyes by the mother of this poor little toddler. After refusing to apologise for the tragedy, and insisting no-one would be sacked, she said:
"This was a family that needed, and was given, extensive help and support.The very sad fact is that we can't stop people who are determined to kill children. I am satisfied that the action that should have been taken was taken."
OK, well whatever I think about that response (and I think it's outrageous by the way) that wasn't the part that really got to me. Later in the interview, after presenter Eddie Mair pointed out that Haringey must have some seriously entrenched problems given that it's the same borough in which Victoria Climbie died, Ms Shoesmith started to talk about what a good council it was and how it was a "3 star local authority" - I mean what?! How inappropriate is that? It was clear that Eddie Mair thought the same since he responded, "what does that mean?" and then "do you think you should lose a star now then?". It beggers belief that in a converation about a vunerable child being battered to death, you can start on with some kind of coporate 'good PR' message. Utterly crass doesn't even begin to describe how bad it was. Maybe I'm wrong but I have a terrible suspicsion that she was briefed beforehand by a PR person and advised to try and get across some "positive" messages about the Council. Whatever happened, it is a prime example of the worst side of PR.
Secondly, the Sun Microsystems 'how to turn 6,000 redundancies into a great story' debacle. I was first alerted to it on Twitter via a tweet by Jeremiah Owyang but it quickly grew legs and then hemorrhaged all over the web. The blog post that I think sums it up best is by e-consultancy's editor in chief, Chris Lake, Sun Microsystems axes 6,000 staff, digs PR hole, jumps in. I mean come on people, it's PR, not rocket science, anyone with even a tiny modicum of common sense would realise that this approach was at best incredibly dim and at worst, inappropriate, immoral and just downright wrong. But I bet that whoever is in charge of PR there is being paid a huge (and completely undeserved) salary. Well probably not for much longer....