Thursday, November 3, 2011

Matt Lauer, meanie

The writer of this PRSA blog post takes Matt Lauer to task for daring to ask Starbuck's CEO Howard Schultz whether the company's initiative to put the jobless back to work was merely a "PR campaign" -- the obvious implication being that there is something underhanded in trying to get credit for doing something worthwhile. The blog writer, Arthur Yann, thinks Lauer is being dismissive of public relations and perpetuating negative stereotypes about the profession.

Mr. Yann is not the only person in our profession to fret over how others perceive us. I suppose you could say it's an occupational hazard: we spend so much time worrying about the reputation of our clients and employers, it's only natural to give some thought to our own. So I mean no personal disrespect to him or any of my colleagues when I say: Get over yourself.

Look, if I didn't worry about how the world at large perceived me when I was a journalist, I'm not going to shed many tears over it as a PR practicioner. The best I can do is serve my organization ethically and to treat the public honestly. As I've said, the best public relations is good conduct. If we, as a profession, conduct ourselves with honor, we will be treated with such.

Then again, I can be a bit of an idealist about these things, which brings me back to the esteemed Matt Lauer. First, the guy has got to put up a tough front. The Today Show is soft enough as it is. If Lauer appears to be shilling for Starbuck's, the guy is going to get reamed.

Second -- and here is perhaps where I sympathize with Arthur Yann's point of view -- what's wrong with doing something for public relations, as long as what you are doing is beneficial? Regular readers of this blog know what I believe my professional purpose is: to reconcile the interests of my employer with that of its various publics. By that definition, what Starbuck's is doing is a PR campaign, and from what I can see, a damn fine one at that.


Krista said...

I like your line of reasoning, especially because I read another post by Gini Dietrich on Spin Sucks that takes more of the defensive angle in the whole PR perception discussion (

Basically, Gini is calling for PR folks to be more proactive in doing PR for PR's sake. I understand your reasoning too, that we shouldn't get too ruffled over these perception issues because our job is to do good/ethical work our clients or companies.

But my question is where does any profession draw the line? There are plenty of other professions with perception issues, but their worlds don't stop spinning. Could you say that Matt Lauer was simply perpetuating the perception of journalism as confrontational and skeptical? It's all relative, I guess, and there's no one solution to the issue. It's always good to read these kinds of posts that make me as a communications person (and former PR pro) really think about what I do and how others perceive my work.

Jonathan Potts said...

I spoke of my time as a journalist -- although reporters chafe at some negative stereotypes about them, they also cultivate their outsider status. (Even though some of them are the ultimate insiders, but that's another story.) In other words, the negative perceptions of journalists serve to reinforce the romanticized view that some journalists have of themselves as crusaders of truth, often working against the system. I exaggerate a bit, but you get the point.

The problem that we have in PR is that we struggle to be more than mere communicators. We want to be strategic counselors -- well, the best of us do -- but the perception that all we do is spin, when it is internalized by our clients and organizations, diminishes our effectiveness. So from that standpoint I understand the problem. But we don't solve it by asking people to take us seriously. It's the equivalent of your mom telling the school yard bully to quit picking on you. It's likely to make the problem worse.

Frank Strong, MA, MBA said...

I interpret Matt's question differently: Starbucks had no intention of really helping jobs, it was just lip service in exchange for earned media.

Like Krista, I think Gini is right -- PR has a terrible reputation as an industry and as PR pros we ought to be very concerned about it. After all, how can you help someone else manage their reputation if you cannot manage you own?