Public relations continues to grow in importance, yet globally and locally our industry still struggles with its image. Research continually shows that CEOs rely on their PR team more and more to make key decisions. In the past year, our profession has been hammered by USA Today , CBS Sunday Morning and earlier this month by left-leaning Rachel Maddow of MSNBC.

Last week, I traveled to New York City to judge the prestigious Silver Anvil Awards for PRSA. I had an in-depth conversation with Michael Cherenson, APR, the chair-elect for the organization, about the topic of integrity in PR.

Three key topics came up:
1) Why is PR counsel held to a different standard than professional services provided by lawyers or accountants? Lawyers are entitled to represent whoever they choose without the fear of being cast-out by other clients. Not the same for PR. We’ve certainly experienced anxiety on high-profile clients who are in trouble but who we believe in.

2) How should PRSA focus its efforts to fight the image that PR executives do not have transparency, ethics and the truth in mind when working for clients?

3) What else could PRSA do to help bring credibility to our profession?

Mr. Cherenson shared many of the steps that PRSA is taking to address this problem. Certainly, a formal accreditation process that everyone adheres to would be a start. Professionals like doctors, lawyers and accountants have this process, yet PR does not.*

*Author’s note: PRSA has an accreditation, the APR designation, but not all professionals feel it is imperative for this title due to a host of other reasons too numerous to discuss here. I do not have my APR by choice and joined approximately 40 percent of my judging colleagues who did not. This is a topic for a future column.

Secondly, we spoke of having a response team of senior leadership in PRSA to take action to slanderous attacks. He indicated this is happening. I urged him to recruit the biggest players in the industry to speak up when untruths are broadcast or written.

Finally, he argued that PR is still a relatively young profession with the first college formed some 50 years ago while other professions and their standards have been around for centuries. PR continues to grow in comparison to advertising and has more influence with CEOs than ever before. The public we seek to influence may not understand our value for years to come.

It is not appropriate to disclose the methods of judging the Silver Anvils in this forum, but as a first-time judge, I was immensely impressed by how serious the judging process was taken by PRSA and judges alike. The standards were extremely high and the winner in my category did not have a perfect score based on our criteria – or even get close. That’s good. PR is still growing and getting better. I’m proud to be part of a profession that is improving its processes and standards each day and year.

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