Wikipedia requires contributors to write from a 'neutral point of view' and its founder Jimmy Wales discourages edits from PR practitioners because their view is deemed, as paid advocates, to be biased. (There's currently a lively debate on this topic on a Facebook group.)
This post is not about Wikipedia, but about the struggle for PR to be practised objectively. For, on the face of it, the paid advocate cannot ever be neutral.
It's because PR seems incapable of neutrality - and will always be vulnerable to charges of 'spin' or even deceit - that we should mind our language.
It is because we act as advocates (and have an intermediary role between the organisations and key groups) that we must be mindful of how the organisation is perceived.
A stream of self-serving, upbeat messages can easily be dismissed as 'just PR'. To be effective, PR must adopt the language and values of news and be written objectively. How does this sound?
- 'Smiley Company are pleased to announce Fun Fridays'
It's wrong in so many ways. It put the organisation at the centre of the story, where it is unlikely to belong. It views the company as plural (we, they) and describes its state of emotion (who cares?). In short, it's not news. It may look like PR (and there's a lot of this about), but it's not ever likely to be effective public relations.
How can ojective public relations improve on this?
- 'Call for Fun Fridays to banish national gloom'
It's still weak, the softest of soft news, but it does raise a topical issue. It's not so smug and doesn't open the organisation to ridicule. At least it's not quite so readily dismissed.
When subjectivity is so inappropriate and so easily-spotted, why is it still so common in public relations statements? The answer has to be group think - the downside of organisational group dynamics - and the desire to please the boss or the client.
But what is more pleasing? Soft words that flatter the boss but fail to deliver any news (and may lead to ridicule); or a more objective approach that removes the self-serving publicity but may deliver greater news impact?
It's the difference between writing with the organisation/client in mind and writing with the reader in mind (the reader, conventionally, being a jaded journalist who has seen it all before).
It's easy to understand, but hard to put into practice. I raise it here because I see so many students and junior practitioners falling into group think and believing that PR means writing in an overly-promotional style.
To respond to Jimmy Wales, we may not be neutral but we can and should be objective.