Professionalism in Public Relations

In Australia, the PR industry is more than thriving with PR practitioners numbering in the thousands. Despite the relevance of PR in the modern world, the collective reputation of PR practitioners all over the world is not, however, as unsullied and highly regarded as the PR industry would want it to be. Charges of less than reputable conduct in work have often hounded PR practitioners and these allegations are often characterized as an indictment against the sincerity and honesty of PR practitioners to the public. If the PR industry wants to elevate its reputation as a whole, there may be a need to reform it starting from an overhaul of the PR school curriculum to the regulation of PR practice. Put differently, the PR industry may need to institute professionalism the old-fashioned way.
Public Relations is defined by Lubbe and Puth as a “deliberate, planned and sustained process of communication between a business and its publics for the purpose of obtaining, maintaining or improving good strategic relations and mutual understanding between the organisation and its various publics – both internal and external” (qtd Nieuwenhuizen &amp. Rossouw 2009 p. 264).
Public relations had its early beginning in the 19th century in press agentry in the United States when newspapers rewarded their advertisers by running free notices of publicities in columns. By the early 20th century, publicity agents and literary bureaus became prevalent in larger cities like New York where they became necessary accessories to big businesses in mitigating the impact of the so-called “muckrakers” like Lincoln Steffens, Upton Sinclair and Ida Tarbell, who were on a crusade against excessive activities of big businesses who were dubbed “robber barons” (Mogel 1993 p. 4).
A PR man named Ivy Lee considered the founder of PR, concocted the strategy of giving press interviews of the “haughty” mine operators, to dispel this perception. This was the first time businessmen faced media and the press for an interview. Lee was also known for successfully humanizing oil magnate John Rockefeller, perceived as the epitome of the “robber baron,” though the latter’s much-publicised appearances in public where he distributed dimes to children (Mogel 1993 p. 4).

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