In the Italian language the term ‘marchetta’ (literally..a small brand..to be pronounced as marketta) indicates a quick and dirty service one performs for another in exchange for a non confessable favour….An elected official will do a ‘marchetta’, a prostitute will do a ‘marchetta’, a journalist will do a ‘marchetta’.
The first and third are normally performed on request of a public relations operator….
A small, but reputed Italian daily (Il Riformista) published the other day a savage but very detailed and convincing attack on the intricate relationships between publishers, journalists, public relators and advertisers, explicitly saying that the era of ‘marchette’ had definitely replaced editorial autonomy and independence in most of Italian media.
While this was happening in Italy, tv talk show anchor Tavis Smiley odwyer smiley.doc opened the PRSA Salt Lake City International Conference by saying:
“For many people.. when they hear the term public relations, they know they are about to be spun”.
Only a few months ago, in commenting a Harris Interactive poll revealing that most American consumers believe (79%) that public relations professionals help clients make more money and that (85%) we take advantage of the media to present misleading information that is favourable to (our) clients, Judy Phair, at that time President of PRSA, placidly understated:
‘there may be some misunderstanding about what we do and how we do it’ ..and went on to add-..
‘..we need to ensure that consumers understand that the vast majority of public relations professionals have the public’s best interest in mind.’.
What are we going to do about this?
What can we do about it?
In my view:
a- we should constantly monitor what social critics, media and activists say about us and ask ourselves how many times in the last few months we have done, more or less, what they accuse us of doing every day;
b- ensure that our employer/clients do not use us as ‘fig leafs’ and other colleagues as ‘hit men’ (this has happened to me in a number of cases during my professional career and if not direct evidence of this, I certainly had many suspicions this was going on.. so why be shocked?);
c- resist the recurring temptation to ‘give up’ and use every opportunity to expose, underline, rationalise, thematise the occasions, cases, events which indicate that not all public relations is ‘spin’ or ‘marchetta’;
d- insist, repeat, obnoxiously reiterate the demand/request that anyone -however respectable, senior or reputable- who accepts to take on the responsibility to represent his fellow public relators in any professional or other body, be fully aware that she/he will be held accountable to every single member, that not all are passive and that at least some will be actively monitoring performance;
e- use every available relationship channel to denounce the more and less explicit ‘malpractices’ and resist that ‘cover up syndrome’ which unfortunately seems to be so embedded in our professional history.
Any other ideas?