You can paint it whichever way you want, the truth of the matter is my industry- and its associated fields, from journalism to advertising- doesn’t have the best reputation in the world. As such when one of the sector’s giants, Bell Pottinger, collapses under the weight of major controversy involving a nation’s race relations, we all wince.
For those who haven’t been keeping abreast of the situation, it went a little something like this. One of the biggest agencies in the world, the aforementioned Bell Pottinger, was implicated in underhand dealings that effectively placed the government of South Africa in the hands of private interests, namely the Gupta family. Worse still, this was apparently achieved through an orchestrated campaign that sought to emphasise and exaggerate cultural and ethnic differences in the country, potentially destabilising a society.
Needless to say, you, me, or anyone else for that matter, will not be hearing from that particular firm again. But that’s not going to repair the damage done to the perception of our industry. It needed a strong, united voice to come forward and publicly condemn the illegalities and moral line-crossing, and thankfully this happened by way of the PRCA. Immediately acting to launch an investigation before throwing Bell Pottinger out of the association- PR’s regulatory body- was the only option.
This benefits all agencies in a huge way. As with most corners of the media, the public views our wheelings and dealings as someone secretive. The rules and legislation guiding good, best, and better practice are not widely understood to those outside this line of work. More so, the PRCA will have been largely invisible to all but the people who answer to it in their everyday jobs. That is until it made thoughts very clear on this scandal.
Every industry needs a governing force that can be seen to hold court, and demand high standards from those involved in a particular line of business. In many ways, PR has long needed this kind of public representation more than most, though. For years, the most visible side of our industry was less than commendable folk like Max Clifford, whose celebrity focussed work really only showed a very outsider, not to mention superficial end of public relations, before he wound up behind bars. Or Marc Barkowski, a pro that was all about stunts, rather than emphasising the role of our work as a strategic tool. Or, on the fictional side of things, Absolutely Fabulous’ Patsy.
The point being it was great to see the PRCA take some ownership, represent the huge spectrum of the industry as a whole, and speak to the media head-on to overcome the derision our sector frequently faces. This has never really happened before, and so it’s a major milestone in convincing people that there is very serious, and essential work being done by those in our field.
By doing the public will feel a greater degree of trust- there is somewhere you can complain to, and there are professionals on hand that will deal with those misgivings seriously, and, where necessary, take real action to reprimand those that need to be brought in line.
We live in an age when trust in everything from politics to big business and current affairs is at an all time low. As such it’s vitally important that when something is wrong- whether that thing is the result of malice or coincidence- it is quickly set right. Otherwise all that we do is really for nought. No matter how you earn your daily bread, you rely on people buying into you and your work. When the very nature of that work is called into question, everybody loses out.