Sultans of Spin: The PR Rep of PR Professionals
When I first started out in public relations as a sophomore in college, I watched the movie “Thank You for Smoking” and faced a very real dilemma. The main character in the movie, Nick Naylor, is Big Tobacco's chief spokesman known as “The Sultan of Spin.” Every week he meets with his friends, firearm lobbyist Bobby Jay Bliss and alcohol lobbyist Polly Bailey, and they jokingly call themselves the "Merchants of Death." Was this the world I dreamed of entering?
Ari Gold, the fictional celebrity agent/public relations manager for Vince Chase in “Entourage,” didn’t help my conception of public relations. Neither did the reality show about the fashion PR firm feature in “Kell On Earth.” I wondered where the CJ Craigs of the “West Wing” were in the real world. Had I just been romanticizing what my role as a PR professional would be?
I’ve realized that while we in PR make our livings by making sure the innovation, creativity and missions of our clients are known – either through compelling news stories or by engaging them at a grassroots level via social media or other creative tactics – we have done a terrible job of PRing ourselves.
When I say, “I am in financial services PR,” people rarely understand what that means. If I were to say “I’m a labor and delivery nurse” or “I’m an environmental lawyer,” it would be much simpler. People can readily imagine how these professionals bring new life into the world and protect its natural resources.
Despite how Hollywood has glamorized the public relations profession, I think this work is based in finding and sharing one’s unique truth. What makes your client different? How are your executives special? What do a client’s services and products provide to its customers? How do your clients offer a solution to challenges? How can you strategically introduce that solution to the right audience?
PR professionals have a responsibility to work with the media as strategic partners. We make the news too, providing accurate sources and credible experts so that people can, in turn, understand an idea, event or subject from a different perspective.
The next time you’re introducing yourself at a party or catching up with an old friend or family member and you say “I’m in PR” (or however it is you give your elevator pitch on your profession), what is the one thing you wish your audience would automatically understand about your work?