One week into Trump’s presidency, it’s clear what one of the major story arcs for this season of The Apprentice: President’s Day will be – the relationship between the White House and the press corp. Between accusations of fake news, media blackouts, and a fluid definition of facts, the idea of what it means to report the news is questioned daily in an unprecedented way.
Journalism as a profession faces a challenge under a Trump administration. But public relations faces a bigger one.
There is a running joke in public relations that PR as an industry is horrible at protecting its own reputation. Public relations is commonly portrayed as full of spin and lies to place clients in a better light – “alternative facts”, if you will.
We’ve worked to repair this reputation through transparent relationships with reporters, responsive social media strategies, and proactive communications through owned channels like blogs. We as a profession have essentially followed the advice that we would give to any one of our clients. So to have one of the highest profile communications professionals in the country unceremoniously throw all that out the window, validating any belief that public relations is a sham, is a problem, to put it lightly.
It’s no secret that when a journalist and a public relations professional are working together, both of them have a job to do. But nine times out of ten, we are doing the same job, just from slightly different perspectives. Media is an ecosystem, and this is a mutually beneficial relationship. PR needs journalism for the reach and legitimacy it provides. Journalism needs PR for the information and access a good relationship with a PR person can provide. And even on the tenth time, when we end up on opposite sides of an issue, we still need to preserve that relationship. It’s the only way we both survive in the future. We don’t have to like the outcome, but we do have to respect the process.
We are lucky to live in a community where journalists and PR professionals frequently work together not only as colleagues, but also as friends. In a world where divisive “us vs. them” rhetoric forces us to choose sides, our best recourse may be to demonstrate that there are no sides, at least in our corner of the universe.
If this presidency can occasionally resemble a reality tv show, then the truth lies not in the soundbites, but somewhere between the highlight reel and the cutting room floor. It’s up to us as ethical communicators to make sure that the full story is told, and that starts in our own professional communities.