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PR people 'put duty to the public ahead of employers' interests'

Says press release based on what PRs said in interviews

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Public relations professionals, often thought generally to lie on a spectrum somewhere between Edina Monsoon (Ab Fab) and Malcolm Tucker (The Thick Of It) are actually "fervent about serving the public interest", and typically place their duty to the public above any loyalty to their employers.

We learn this from a press release written by university PR staff in Texas, describing a recent investigation by a professor of PR and a professor of advertising in which they interviewed senior PR people who had worked for "corporations, nonprofit organizations and government entities" and asked them if they saw themselves as having acted as an "organisational conscience" during their careers.

Amazingly, rather than pumping out relentless positive messages and attempts to get their employers' names mentioned in press reports for free - while simultaneously attempting to suppress, bury or spin away any bad news regarding their paymasters - it turned out that your typical PR type is in fact a selfless crusader for truth and justice. The PRs told their interviewers, who then told the other PRs writing the release:

Public relations professionals ... are at least as fervent about serving the public interest ... as they are about their duty to their organizations ...

A new study of 30 senior public relations professionals, most of whom had served as an "organizational conscience," showed the individuals viewed themselves as an "independent voice" ...

Study participants said they often were in the "kill the messenger" predicament, making it tricky to give criticism to people who outranked them ...

But the average PR, the PRs said, lives by an iron moral code and will happily risk unemployment rather than allow the public to be deceived.

Speaking up on sensitive ethical issues required courage, study participants said. A few were fired or demoted for refusing to do something that was blatantly unethical; two resigned when their advice was rejected, including one who refused to include false information in a press release.

Another major barrier was a common misperception among senior executives that public relations is nothing more than a tool of marketing ...

One participant bravely confided: "I can't afford to lose my credibility ... As PR professionals, it's all we have".

So there you have it. You can believe anything a PR tells you - provided you can believe anything a PR tells you.

The study on which the press release is based can be read here in the Journal of Mass Media Ethics. ®

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