PR needs a radical change in transparency

Public relations is one of the most mysterious industries. People working in communications are considered to be pulling the strings behind the curtain, trying to influence the media and their stories. The problem is that this image of the industry is well deserved. Working in PR for nearly 10 years I have to admit, that we haven’t done anything to change our bad reputation in the last few decades.

Why do this matter? It matters, because the world has changed and people expect businesses to be valued members of society, in other words, to contribute to the well-being of all. Even the communications industry must react and take part in this discussion and start being worried about its opaque reputation. If not, it is facing the possible future of stronger regulation or becoming untruthful partner for other business stakeholders – corporations, public authorities and, of course, the public.

Transparency is the answer

To tackle the major concern connected to Public relations and Public affairs, the basic way we operate must be overhauled. The world is becoming more open, mostly because of big data, which is available for almost everyone. Each our footstep, text message or call is recorded and stored somewhere. Huge leaks of documents from corporations or state departments and public support for whistleblowers show that there is no communication which is hidden and buried for eternity.

The response to this situation is obvious – radical change of transparency. Those working in communications have to start to carrying out their daily tasks with a regard to a different, more transparent, environment. We need to show that there is no conspiracy behind our work, that we communicate with journalists or public authorities with good intentions and following ethical guidelines. Being open about everything we do is the right answer to issues connected to PR.

How to achieve it?

Fortunately, we live in an age, when it is very easy to track our activities. Online communication like emails and messages are available forever. Official meetings with public authorities are being recorded and published as well. In general, all interactions with stakeholders can be stored in one place, using something like CRM software. From this point of view, there is no reason not to open this database to everyone and make it public.

Too radical? I don’t mean that each piece of personal communication between a spokesperson and a journalist should be visible and all emails readable to everyone. Personal communication must stay private. But basic information about having a call with a senior editor of a national newspaper or meeting with a Deputy Mayor should not be hidden.

If we are able to show how we conduct our work and what we are actually doing, our job will lose its mysterious taste. At the same time, we will be able to present the added value of the communications industry. How we create useful content, how we help to share information about the complexity of the world and shape good stories to make them more appealing. If we really have good intentions, why are we afraid to be seen while we work?