power and influence

Is everyone entitled to PR representation?

The #PowerAndInfluence Twitter chat is a chance for all people with an interest in PR to share opinions and learn from alternative viewpoints.

It was fitting therefore, that Birmingham, rather than London, was chosen to host the UK’s first #PowerAndInfluence live debate. As a symbolic gesture, it was a good one. We were sat in circular rows ensuring everyone was part of the debate, which asked the provocative question, ‘Is everyone entitled to PR representation?’

Cue a discussion which covered money, ethics, professionalism, spin, skills, training, leadership, PR as a management function and the ubiquitous ‘what is PR?’

Five industry leaders faced the first line of questioning, delivered by #PowerandInfluence founder Ella Minty. Under Chatham House rules we can’t share who said what, but safe to say that Claire Herbert, a partner at Gateley, CIPR CEO Alastair McCapra, Senior PR lecturer at Birmingham City University, Philip Young, Copper Consultancy’s Fiona Woolston and our own Lis Lewis-Jones had very different views in response to the overall question.

We debated how the court of law can become a court of public opinion and the role that the media can play in shaping the narrative of a case. Therefore, PR representation might be recommended, but is it a right? The corporate need for PR is different – but is it a management function, or a question of leadership?

This led on training and skills – should communications be taught as part of an MBA, or should we be doing more to help new PR practitioners ask the right questions, understand professional ethics and how to seek advice? And do we need to learn about the unethical use of reputation management tech? It’s certainly an area that I’ll be adding to my CPD plan in 2020.

So we agreed that there is no ‘right’ to PR representation, but in ancient times, there was no ‘right’ to have legal representation either. Before lawyers, citizens could defend themselves against charges at the bar.

They did their best. Then they discovered some people were very good advocating for others, and citizens would pay someone to plead their case more convincingly. The legal profession was born.

There is nothing today to prevent a person from engaging a professional to advocate their case at ‘the bar of public opinion’. They just need to find someone to plead their case. The more suspect their behaviour, the less likely they are to find a first-rate PR professional to represent them. There will be a natural selection in this commercial transaction.

However, if this is just a commercial transaction, how do we give a voice to those who can’t afford to pay? That’s where first-rate PR professionals might choose to do pro-bono work to support charitable causes.

For me, PR representation is about helping people or organisations understand their audience, listen to it, and then find the right words, language or channels to communicate, rather than spinning the truth.

In an ideal world, that means we can help them shape their future behaviour to help their case when at ‘the bar of public opinion’. As public opinion evolves over time and across countries, and uses new channels to express itself, it’s our role to help all organisations, sectors or individuals to adapt and change to meet new expectations.

It may be our role, but without a legal obligation to help, or legal imperative to stop, it’s our choice whether we take up the challenge. So, in the true spirit of #PowerAndInfluence, I found that it’s not important that we all agree. It’s important that we all keep debating.

To join the conversation, follow #PowerAndInfluence. See you there!

Lisa Jones, Account Director