You Know What’s Wrong With The PR Industry?

You suck

Nothing. Squat. Zilch. Nada. No, seriously – there is absolutely nothing wrong with the PR industry.

There’s plenty wrong with some of the people in it, but is that the industry’s fault? No – it’s the person’s fault for being an asshat.

An industry, by definition, is either a collection of businesses, or the building of an idea around something or someone. Not a living, breathing person – but a collective of many things.

So blaming a whole industry for crappy practices is like blaming the complete city garbage removal system because one of your bags got left behind. Shit happens – but it’s people that cause shit, not industries.

Yes, there are craptastic shysters in the PR industry. But that can be said about pretty much every single industry full stop.

Social media (though I’m not sold on tools being classed as an industry) has idiots.

Marketing has idiots.

Advertising has idiots.

My local pool has an idiot for a lifeguard.

Industries don’t create bad results; or shameful practices; or questionable ethics. People do.

Something to keep in mind when you decry a whole industry and take down the good people that are doing all they can to counter the clueless ones.

image: JKonig

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  1. Al Pittampalli says

    Very true, Danny. PR is getting hit hard right now, but I know great PR people that add tons of value to their clients, and are impeccably ethical in their marketing practices. BTW the Arrington article was priceless…thanks for pointing to it.

    • says

      I agree with Al. Ethics seem to play a large role in separating “good PR” and “bad PR” if you ask me. We’re dealing with people…and many people in PR forget about this fact.

    • says

      Hi Al,

      So true – you can have the greatest businesses and industries in the world, but without ethics, you have to wonder if they’re really that great…

  2. says

    What do we do about the idiots? Let them ruin it for everybody or teach them to be better since we’re passionate about the industry. Besides, we all don’t want to be perceived as an idiot because of others. But then how do we help the idiots if we choose to?

    • says

      Hi Thabo,

      Highlight the good more, as opposed to report on the bad. Over time, hopefully we can make the good the norm and the bad the ones that are out of place.

  3. says

    I concur; just throw an industry out there and you probably don’t have to dig too deep to start uncovering idiots.

    Of course this just creates opportunities for the ‘perfect’ ones (like us……..:) to rise above and set the example. Unfortunately you seem to hear more and more about craptastic shysters and tend to believe this is the new ‘norm’.

    You made some good points and will probably have to agree with you on this one today.

    Be careful at John’s house; he gets into that wine and starts acting a little silly. Good thing he doesn’t have to drive anywhere from there.

    • says

      Hi there Bill,

      Maybe that’s the way we combat it? Gini and I touched on it in our BlogWorld presentation – highlight more of the good and the great, and don’t give time to the bad?

      Still highlight crappy practices and why they suck, but don’t give any airtime to the people or agencies, as they seem to feed off that?

      Duly noted about John. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      • says

        Yes, that’s EXACTLY how you combat it! Don’t give time to those who are writing inflammatory pieces decrying an entire profession because of their narrow-mindedness! I lose respect for those people who make sweeping generalizations about an entire industry, vs. just showing their chops. I learned a long time ago in sales training to never talk about one’s competition, or talk ill of anyone else in one’s industry. It just makes us look bad, when we should be highlighting what we do right. The client knows how to make a wise decision based on the positives we show them. Leave the naysayers in the dust!

  4. says

    It’s a bit of a constant battle between tech journos and PR’s. They both seem to hate each other but at the end of the day they do need each other in the same way! It’s the oldest argument in the book and it flares up all the time and will continue to do so!!

    • says

      That’s the biggest irony, eh, Niall? For two industries that are so entwined, they sure do seem intent on making it hard for each other to get along.

      Mind you, I’ve seen just as stupid internal battles between sales, marketing and advertising teams… ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. says

    Hi Danny,

    I agree, Every industry has idiots. No one is perfect, but it is so easy to make a mistake and “act out” on Twitter. I do not take that chance. Too much is at stake reputation wise.

    Trust is the hardest thing to obtain and the easiest to lose. If I think for one second that I can tweet something inappropriate I am sadly mistaken.

    All industries have stupid people and do stupid things. Let the one who lives in a glass house throw the first stone. :)

    • says

      Hi Nancy,

      That’s one of the things that really stand out at times. For a company that’s paid to “do public better”, there sure seems to be a lot of mess-ups in public… ๐Ÿ˜‰

  6. says


    I’ll completely agree that the mistakes, big and small, are made by people and not the industry. But, as someone who has been in PR for over 3 decades, I do think the industry needs to do a much better in education and training. It also would be nice if the ‘industry’ could actually enforce ethical standards, but that isn’t going to happen so I’ll move on.

    The other problem is that you get what you pay / compensate for… As long as the industry practice focuses on things like media coverage to justify the bill and evaluate the agency for retention and people for promotions we’re going to keep getting this crap. Better measurement and the industry accepting responsibility for real results – not just things like coverage – would go a very long way toward improving how people do PR.

    I’ll stop now. Cheers, Mate!

    • says

      Hey there Rick,

      Completely agree with you, mate. It’s why I don’t put a lot of stock into organizations like the PRSA.

      Yes, they have their Code of Ethics in place, but it’s really just for their members. What PR needs (and social media, to be fair) is something like the Advertising Standards Agency in the U.K., or something similar, that affects all advertisers.

      Until you have a governing body with full powers, you’re always going to have the problems we currently have, and the perception of PR as a whole.

      Hey ho…

      • says

        Danny – In my previous comment, I praised your ability to stand up for PR without launching into a pointless rant. I have to raise a couple of issues with this comment, thought:
        1. The UK’s Advertising Standards Agency works well because it monitors two industries (advertising and online marketing) that are highly regulated in the UK, just as they are (for the most part) in the US. In the US, however, public relations and communications from businesses enjoy broad First Amendment protections (see: last year’s Supreme Court ruling in the Citizen’s United case). Moreover, our industry is almost completely unregulated in the US. Therefore, it would be quite difficult โ€” and prohibitively expensive โ€” for PRSA to try to regulate or govern the PR industry in the U.S.
        Even if we wanted to do so, legally, we couldnโ€™t. We have no legal standing to govern the industry, as again, PR is unregulated in the U.S., which is where PRSA has its legal standing. We believe it is far more valuable to our members โ€” and to the broader profession โ€” to focus on educating the value of ethical communications, versus spending thousands of dollars and volunteer and staff time on trying to govern and prosecute unethical offenses in which we would have little, if any, legal standing to do so.
        We have a page on our website that explains why PRSA no longer enforces its Code of Ethics:
        2. I think itโ€™s a little unfair to try to lay all of the PR industryโ€™s problems on the shoulders of PRSA. Certainly, we have broad international standing and with 32,000 members, we represent the most in the profession. But as I noted above, in many cases, there are issues that are either out of our jurisdiction or outside of the scope of what our members have asked us to focus on.

        And for the most part, our members want us to focus on educating the value of ethical communications. There is very, very little impetus among our members to revert back to the time when we did try to enforce the PRSA Code of Ethics (from 1950-2000). It simply was not a tenable situation, and wasted valuable resources on what could have been spent helping PR pros, along with the business community and other relevant parties, better understand the value and role of ethical communications.

        I know weโ€™ve had this discussion before, and you and I congenially disagree on some of the points. Hopefully, we can agree that there is absolutely a need for stringent ethical standards in PR, and that we all play a role in ensuring each of us stands up for that and does our part to ensure work is as ethical as possible.

        Keith Trivitt
        Associate Director of PR

        • says

          Hi Keith,

          I completely agree, mate, and my reply to Rick wasn’t meant as an “attack” on the PRSA specifically (one of the reasons I added the “social media needs it too” addendum). If my reply came across wrong, I apologize.

          To your point, though, it’s one of the reasons (for me) that organizations like yours – and the Canadian equivalent, and others around the globe – maybe don’t get taken as seriously as most would love them to be.

          Sure, there’s costs involved in regulating an industry – but can you really put a price on something when it could mean the difference between a client going out of business because of bad ethics from their PR agency?

          It’s why I firmly believe that there needs to be an enforced regulator with mandatory membership. Otherwise we’ll still be having this same conversation in 10 years time, sadly.

        • says


          Since I pretty much started this, let me jump back in here. As I said originally, enforcing ethics isnโ€™t going to happen in PR. I respect PRSA and its education efforts but, frankly, it isnโ€™t enough.

          Full disclosure, I am not a PRSA member and havenโ€™t been since I left college in 1976. I never had enough hours in the day or any compelling reason. Nobody ever asked me if I had an APR, even when I was running big chunks of business for global agencies. The link to the non-enforcement page just increases my belief we need new and better ways to improve the performance of our people and the image of our industry.

          Frankly, it is probably the values of agency leaders we need to look at to some extent, but this is missing my bigger pointโ€ฆ

          The PR agency business model is broken โ€“ it relies on one thing โ€“ selling hours. And, the most profitable hours at any PR agency are those billed by the lowest paid staff. We can barely afford to train them because of the utilization rates we need to stay profitable.

          Iโ€™ve sat through countless management meetings discussing how to get paid for value and expertise to improve profitability. The problem has always been an unwillingness to actually measure it (including clients not willing to pay to measure), stand behind it and take a risk on getting paid for delivering.

          I donโ€™t think Danny laid all the industryโ€™s problems on PRSA in the least. He simply said, and youโ€™ve agreed, that an unenforceable code of ethics isnโ€™t going to solve these issues. I totally agree. Keep doing what youโ€™re doing, because education is all we can currently do, but the business model needs an adjustment to fix more of this. And, yes, the same is true for what business models I see in social media.

          Sorry, Danny โ€“ rant over!

  7. says

    Spot on Danny every Industry has an Asshat or two.

    I think that whats really interesting with PR is that almost every online metod of marketing that you could mention is essentially morphing into something thats more like PR.

    If you read the Google Guidelines the only way to perform white hat SEO especially in terms of link building is to think in terms of a PR campaign.

    • says

      Great point, Justin. I’m not even sure there is anything as clear cut as just PR, anymore – like you say, it’s really a much bigger entity that covers a bigger spectrum.

      Maybe the asshats that stick to bad PR will just get swallowed up? ๐Ÿ˜‰

  8. says

    Yes… all down to people.
    Same in every industry not just the PR industry.

    Maybe we need to keep the industry and get rid of the people.

    Just a minute, I think I’ve got that wrong….

    • says

      Thanks, miss – it’s more of a call to recognize people like you as opposed to asshats like, well, we know our fair share. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  9. says

    Very true! Unfortunately some industries have more asshats than others, but it doesn’t mean everyone needs to be tarred with the same brush, that’s just a silly generalisation.

    • says

      Exactly Robert. It’s like saying the tech industry is full of arrogant egomaniacs just because Michael Arrington is in it… ๐Ÿ˜‰

  10. says

    Exceptional point Danny, exceptionally well made.

    I always get rather frustrated when I hear blanket statements, as so many have a bad habit of judging the whole just because of the individual–a dumb move.

    It’s not just business either, it’s religion, occupations, etc, etc, etc.

    Lovin the passion brother.


    • says

      That’s a great point about religion, mate. I recall when 9/11 happened and the backlash against Muslims worldwide. Um… what?

      Would we tar the Japanese or Germans because of of some of their ancestors did in the wars? Heck, the Allied Forces have committed plenty of war crimes, but do we tar all soldiers as murderers?

      Dangerous thing, generalization – cheers, sir!

  11. says


    I so want to make that my one-word comment, can’t quite hit ‘post’ Danny. I’m over the generalizations and blanket accusations (like Marcus). Sure the ‘industry’ (its educators, leaders, associations) has its role to play, but then the industry is led by people too. Smart people, good people who as you say work their asses off, doing their best to counter the bad. FWIW.

  12. says

    I agree and disagree.

    If people and agencies pay money to belong to an organization that is selfish and arrogant and then does things that prevent ethics and good practice do you blame people or the industry.


    The Ad Industry wants to self police advertising to children vs taking a stand on what is good and what is bad.

    The US Power Industry fights to keep polluting using coal.

    The Oil Industry fights to not get in trouble for abusive practices in 3rd world countries.

    The US Chamber of Commerce fights against Universal healthcare, anything that taxes or impedes business even if business is killing people or stealing etc.

    The US Natural Gas industry is fighting States to be allowed to Hydrocrack for Gas even though it is polluting ground water.

    The US Coal industry is fighting to allow mountain top removal and against rules punishing it for destroying rivers in parts of the US.

    People? or the whole Industry?

    Not sure my views I pose this to the group.

    • says

      Hi Howie,

      I see your point, mate, but I’d say it still comes back to the people at the end of the day.

      The examples you mention are still governed by what people are doing, based on either personal agendas or financial interests.

      Get good people in – good, ethical people – and no matter the industry, it will become good as a result.

      • says

        I think the problem is profit maybe? How many of us have ever had to choose between big money and ethics. Very few of us. and I think the people who work in industries if they get paid enough don’t care.

        PR though is different. It is like Advertising and Marketing. I want to blame clients for hiring the bad agencies and people who don’t perform or do a disservice. But they seem so confused at what performing and good service means that there is a gaping hole for people to walk into the bank vault and out with the money.

  13. says

    You said it all. Your readers said it all.

    There are so MANY outstanding people out here in this land connected to our fingers… and yet, the idiots, asshats, whatever term flips a personal switch… they are there too.

    I truly believe that there are enough humans, passionate enough to drown them out and wash them away. Simply because of something you wrote….not very long ago (?) about the fact that folks ARE seeing thru the B.S.

    And just one quick question… is there some sort of a list of what in the world all the acronyms Davina uses?! ~Amber-Lee

    • says

      Hey there Amber-Lee,

      I gave up on Davina’s acronyms a looong time ago – there are just too many! ๐Ÿ˜‰

      I do remember I questioned whether the real Davina was commenting once as she used the full version of an acronym – that’s how much I’ve gotten used to them! :)

  14. says

    G’Day Danny,
    Every so often, someone in the blogosphere says something eminently sane, It’s a very small cub. This post entitles you to platinum membership.

    Well bloody said!



  15. says

    As long as there are humans in human interaction, there will be a percentage of people who chose to be manipulative, self-serving and…asshats. It’s a great word. I do believe the only way to mitigate that behavior is to ignore them. Truly. Trying to offer new standards or education to change behavior of people who’ve reaped the benefits of the cheap and easy all their careers is a bit like teaching a pig to sing…

    • says

      Couldn’t agree more, Mimi. Sure, we can keep pointing out a really bad approach – but offer why it’s wrong, and how it could have been done better.

      Promote the good and ignore the bad consistently enough, and we may just start to see a shift in perception. We can hope, anyhoo… ๐Ÿ˜‰

  16. says

    Good point & I am tired of PR bashing.. I do though shudder when my media friends list off their latest Pr stupidity storie & the industry has mixed quality but problem is you can’t hide someone in the corner in PR & hope nobody notices… There is mixed quality in every industry… It is frustrating for people with high standards to be tarnished with the foolishness of a few…

    • says

      Yep, that’s definitely one of the bigger issues, Mick – it’s pretty hard to hide when your industry is such a public-facing one. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  17. says

    Good point Danny. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the PR industry. It’s all about the people behind who are being manipulative of their industry to the extent that their main function becomes impaired and the whole system gets impaired. Maybe this is why the industry is mostly blamed as a whole.

    • says

      Exactly, mate – look at any industry that has a crap reputation as a whole, and generally it’s because the players at the top are corrupt, or greedy, or immoral.

      Get rid of them…

  18. says

    Asshats and craptastic shysters? I think I love you. You also summed up what a lot of us have been talking about, in a lot fewer words. To use Davina’s word: “Word!”

  19. says

    I think you managed to sum up the human race in less than 100 words :). Not to mention that the word asshat seems like a perfect fit for many.

    Reading this – all I could think of are the “shit for brains” that make up some of the governments we have around the world.

    So how do you deal with the asshats?

    I think Gini does a great job in trying to “educate” folks by focusing on the good things in the PR industry all while highlighting the bad (every so often) and laying out how things could have been handled differently.

    At the end of the day – it’s people that make up a business or industry and it’s only them that can sway public opinion or perception of that said industry or company.

    What sucks though – is that others pay the price for the mistakes of asshats. So in reality – it’s not really fair overlook the good and judge an entire industry by the mistakes made by some.

    Very often in our life, we focus on the 2% that’s wrong instead of the 98% that’s good. Maybe the same applies here and it’s only by focusing on the good that we can change perceptions. What do you think? Does that make sense?

    Great discussion topic Danny and needless to say that your wise words are spot on!

    Hope you had a great weekend my friend.

    • says

      Hey there miss,

      Couldn’t agree more – Gini, and others like her, are really leading the way on how things should be done.

      Now if we could only get an all-seeing governing body with her in charge… ๐Ÿ˜‰

  20. says

    Now this has to be the best response I’ve read thus far to the TechCrunch post in which the TC writer attempted to juxtapose his seemingly large complaint with one private firm (Facebook) as an indictment of the entire profession.

    Well done, Danny, and thank you for a) not taking 2,100 words to make your point (as the TC writer did); and b) actually making a point that resonates with many others and has some factual basis to it.

    Keith Trivitt

  21. says

    Great post. This is so true. EVERY industry has people who are not good at their job or aren’t ethical. Look at the recent scandals in the Washington, DC police department for instance. Thankfully companies and organizations have a choice when it comes to choosing something like…a PR agency or consultant and they should do careful research to pick the right person/agency for the job. I mean would you let some random person on the street babysit your child? I sure hope not. I rest my case.

  22. says

    I love your frame of view Danny.

    People say that guns are bad. Nope, they’re not. Some people are bad with guns.

    And they say that money is evil. No it’s not, again…it’s the worship of money that leads to evil.

    It’s not the “thing” it’s the people that give the “thing” a bad wrap.

    So, to me, the PR industry is juuuuust fine!

    Have a great week Danny!

  23. says

    Yes there are idiots and because of their lack of knowledge shit happens. But that’s not an excuse but a reason to change. Sadly they don’t care to change and nor do their bosses.

  24. callierenee87 says

    I’m a public relations major, and I care. You are misinformed or not informed at all. My professors care greatly about the integrity of the industry, and the importance of ethics is drilled into our heads in every class. I don’t see why it would be any different at any other university. In these classes I have studied many cases where PR has made a positive difference in society. Because of a public relations campaign, the number of calls made to the stincreased by about 6, which undoubtedly saved lives considering 1 in 5 women mmurdered were killed by t their suppose or boyfriend. I personally chose a career in public relations in PR because I want to to make a difference. I guess every part of my argument could be discounted since R is bullshit because I was trained that way, .. The nthe message of the Texas campaign is “break the silence make the call” google it. Sorry for typos. My iPad is on the fritz. Just had to comment because this type of stereotyping is offensive to me. PR is a powerful force in our Socity, but that and it can be used for good or bad.

  25. callierenee87 says

    Okay that last comment turned out worse than I thought. That should say the number of calls to the domestic abuse help hotline increased by about 60 percent.