December 4th, 2008
Yesterday, I jokingly suggested that December 1 be set aside as annual PR Is Dead Day. The selection of the date was totally arbitrary, but had I given it any thought I would have realized that December 1 is Aids Awareness Day and not necessarily the best day for an event celebrating death, even in a satirical way. Lloyd Grosse called me on my gaffe, and when he told me his story, I invited him to respond with a guest post here.
I have had HIV since 1982 - and am a very long term survivor. In the 80s I was a pretty radical activist and was at the coalface for arguing for the rights of people with HIV. I was one of the first people to be publicly open and appeared in the HIV awareness adverts and articles.
Funny enough as a ratbag activist I saw the power of developing strong relationships with all the people who had a stake in HIV, from my mates close to death in the palliative care through to the Federal Health Minister - and of course the journos that reported on health. This opened my eyes to PR and sharpened my activism which eventually led to me starting my own PR agency back in the 90’s called Out PR (now long gone).
So me as the radical was now in my own PR agency and found myself recruited by a very savvy product manager in Roche and retained to manage their HIV/AIDS portfolio in Australia. It was a time where there was a change in the air - from HIV is a death sentence - to seeing some hope that some of us might survive a lot longer.
We helped Roche launch the first of a new line of AIDS drugs (protease inhibitor) and the new diagnostic Viral Load test onto the Australian market - advances which - to be frank saved my life. We used our position with Roche to lobby for a compassionate access program (before the drugs and test were funded) and clinical occupational therapy service which contributed to saving a load of my mates’ lives and those of people in my extended community.
So I have a very different view of PR. PR is not nor should ever be dead.
At its best, PR saves lives – think of:
- testing for skin cancer & spf sun protection,
- 2×5 (2 fruit and 5 veg in one day) campaign to encourage better eating habits,
- and of course the condom campaign in the 80s/90s to stop the spread of AIDS.
They are just 3 PR campaigns - there are loads more which raise money for the poor, awareness of violence against women, recycling, breast screening, blood donations, fluoridation of water, (do I need to continue?).
Sure there are bad apples but there are in every profession. Dare I say there are examples of bad apples in the blogger community.
Building relationships is what we do. So when our constituents believe we should die – it hurts!
I wonder if the spray and pray PR people to whom you refer are members of a professional organisation and are signed onto a code of ethics. Does anyone bother to ask these days? Anyone can call themselves a PR professional. Most are not. In Australia it takes 3 years of university in an accredited degree and at least 3 full time work in PR to qualify as a Member of our professional institute. Many journos who are losing their jobs because of contracting media markets are trying their hand at PR and they are all too often crap at it. Strategic communication is more than a 30 second grab or a headline.
Criticising all PRs is ironically similar to what you are complaining about. Unresearched, spray and pray comments on blogs are probably just as bad as bad PR.
In an effort to be entirely transparent - I am the National Information Officer for the Public Relations Institute of Australia and we are guardians of my profession’s reputation in Australia.