The rise of the power of PR is undeniable. It even featured in the Financial Times this month, which quoted the latest estimate of global turnover for PR firms at $10bn a year. However, that the industry itself rather than its actions appeared on the front pages might not seem welcome, at least not by the old rules.
Roy Greenslade of the Guardian was particularly scathing. His stance is that journalists are now outnumbered by PRs and because of that the press has little power, which is “bad for democracy”.
Despite this, it’s arguable that the PR industry’s financial success is actually beneficial for the wider society and even democracy.
First, $10bn is nothing extraordinary for a global industry. Some bankers might call that a good night out!
Second, PR has always existed alongside journalism and communications, and the professionalisation and globalisation of the global media means that content, and true understanding, is king.
It’s arguable that effective communications are actually essential to good democracy; public or private bodies that communicate effectively are better fulfilling their role in civil society. If they want to communicate in order to help them to make money, they need to communicate well to persuade a sceptical, well-informed public that their services are valuable.
The rise of PR makes that conversation more competitive, not easier. And the fact is democracy is in rude health in 2012.
Finally, the counter-argument is that professional journalists actually retain just as much power as in previous decades. While some titles have fewer readers and there are fewer paid titles about generally its arguable that having less competition has significantly increased the influence of many professional journalists. News that the Evening Standard returned to profit after years in the red was everywhere last month and shows that professional journalism is far from dying a slow death.
In an age where anyone is a publisher of instant communication, doing it well is precious. Telling a true story in a compelling way is the most effective way to gain trust. If you don’t do this it can backfire spectacularly and people will not choose your services. Democracy in action.
Image: “Media Definition Button” by Stuart Miles, FreeDigitalPhotos.net