Gawker Finally Asks Whether ‘PR People Deserve Our Sympathy’


Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan–who joined the outlet after a stint as a reporter at PR Week–has some opinions about the communications industry. Some “unvarnished (and sometimes mean)” opinions.

Today Nolan makes his perspective on the practice clearer than before. His post asks the headlining question in response to a story in proletarian pub Jacobin arguing that some journalists’ tendency to hate on PR is both a class and gender issue and that writers should be more sympathetic regarding the work that professional communicators do.

His basic conclusion:

“Do PR people deserve our sympathy? Yes. Does the PR industry deserve our sympathy? No. “

There’s more if you want to take your bitter, bitter medicine.

Here’s a distillation of Nolan’s perspective:

“Public relations people work on behalf of corporations, to further those corporations’ interests…If your sympathy for the PR person stifles your impulse to criticize the PR person’s client, then the corporation wins. This, indeed, is what companies are buying with all of that money that the spend on spokespeople: human sympathy.

…if journalists stop pointing out the craven, dishonest nature of PR, we are not doing anyone any favors. That would be doing exactly what the corporations want.”

Those are some harsh adjectives. While we do understand Nolan’s perspective, we feel that this post may be oversimplifying things a bit.

For perhaps the first time in recorded history, some of the comments on the post are both earnest and helpful. Here’s one:

I’ll out myself as someone who works in PR. I’ve done corporate PR and hated it – it felt too much like sales. I prefer non-profit PR and have worked in that industry for about 10 years. I have a good relationship with the majority of the journalists I work with. I used to be a journalist so I understand what they’re going through for the most part and I understand what they need. I try not to annoy them with stupid pitches. I help them when they need help and I gather research for them and find experts.

The popular culture image for PR is Samantha from Sex & the City…Maybe it’s different in New York or LA but I’ve never met anyone like that.

…and here’s another:

I would actually argue, as someone who has experienced moderate success in the PR field, that lying is a net-negative strategy in PR, since it is easily uncovered and makes things worse than the underlying situation that the lie is meant to resolve.

We’d love to repeat that last point. The act of promotion is not inherently dishonest, and any decision to directly distort the truth will almost always (eventually) backfire for a client–no matter how large their business might be.

Nolan obviously doesn’t agree. His view may not represent that of every blogger or journalism at large, but it’s worth a read to see the roots of certain animosities.

Smells like another case of bad eggs ruining the bunch.