To the PR industry: It’s time to stop blowing your own trumpet

PR expert and ex-journo Seán Galvin believes it's time the PR industry stopped tooting its own horn, and instead focussed on creating great work.

My clients pay me to blow their trumpets for them. Sometimes, I persuade someone else to do it. In the trade, this is known as ‘third-party endorsement’.

So imagine my annoyance, and that of my professional peers, when business people take it upon themselves to blow their own trumpets. For pity’s sake, you’re snatching the very food from our mouths. How vulgar! Cheap! Shameless!

Look at LinkedIn and its ilk. Perhaps it’s my timeline but lately the cacophony of self-praise, virtue signalling and gobsmacking braggadocio has risen to an eardrum-bursting crescendo.

My instinct, of course, is to counsel caution. Blatant self-advertisement lacks credibility. Most people switch off show-offs. Boastful claims draw mere derision. Companies should engage and persuade, not hector and alienate. Seek authenticity, not noise.

Put down your trumpet and step away.

“Not so fast”, comes the scornful reply. “You lot are as bad as us. No, worse by far. Some of you even put us up to it! Physician, heal thyself.”

I assume the plaintive posture of a footballer who, having committed an egregious foul, crouches before the referee, hands joined in prayerful supplication, mouthing, “Who, me?”

But I’m afraid it’s the red card he’s reaching for. You’ve got us bang to rights. For even those paragons of modesty and self-effacement – my PR sisters and brothers – have, to use the common parlance, been bigging it up large with tales of their derring-do.

This is not only ethically dubious. It can be massively self-defeating.

Marketing one’s services (internally or externally) is essential, of course. Producing anything but the most anodyne case studies (client approved) is an almost impossible task. But the corporate adviser should be the soul of discretion. Let’s keep the hyperbole for the awards season and in the meantime get on with the job of representing our clients.

I was brought up in both journalism and PR to believe that becoming part of the story is tantamount to professional failure.

Today’s gaggle of celebrity commentators and PR ‘gurus’ bears awful witness to how the times are changing, day after narcissistic day.

But just as the media is being forced to take a long, hard look at itself in the era of #fakenews, so must PR if it wishes to remain relevant.

Most clients rightfully resent someone else sharing or stealing the limelight. Especially when they paid that person good money to put them there. Conversely, they rarely take kindly to attention being drawn to the mess out of which good communications often extricates them.

The best we PR ‘flacks’ should expect is an honourable mention in despatches or a quiet word of thanks. A favourable salary or fee review when the dust has settled would be nice, too.

As for the claim that PR can ‘control’ public or government opinion, that sort of spurious nonsense is fundamental to the industry’s poor reputation. Influence, yes; often by good old-fashioned advocacy. But to nod knowingly at whispers of ‘dark arts’ only serves to feed the distrust and paranoia of our febrile times.

Rather than making dubious claims about the efficacy of this or that campaign, PR practitioners collectively need to do a better job of explaining the terrific work that the best of our industry undertakes every day: helping clients address their challenges, fostering better understanding of their businesses and stimulating constructive discussion with those who affect or are affected by their activities.

As for blowing one’s own trumpet, I’ll leave you with this thought from one of the greatest practitioners of the art, the phenomenal Miles Davis: “It’s not the notes you play… it’s the notes you don’t play.”

Recovering journalist, PR veteran and jazz aficionado Seán Galvin can be found on his website here. 


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