"This ain't the shop for justice" said Jack Dawkins, more famously known as the Artful Dodger, in his last appearance in Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist. The great mid-19th century serial (published in Bentley's Miscellany) was written, in part, to highlight the great injustices of the age, such as including child labour and the recruitment of children by criminal gangs. The Artful Dodger's comments, as he's led away, most likely to be sent to a penal colony in Australia, are made as he's "threatening, till he got into the yard, to make a parliamentary business of it", over-blown claims which the judge completely ignores.
This weekend BBC Radio 4's Media Show dedicated an entire programme to the business of public relations, and it's relationship with journalism. It was presented as a "deep dive into the world of public relations" to reveal "some of the secrets of the trade". What followed was a show that focused mostly on media relations and publicity, stunts and radio days. Some of the examples and case studies cited were rather embarrassingly dated, from punk bands in the 1960s and a court case involving Jerry Hall and a large box of marijuana from the 1980s. No, I'm not making this up, and I'm not smoking anything that the innocent Ms Hall was accused of carrying.
This has led to howls of derision from across the PR industry, including the two main bodies the CIPR and the PRCA, with senior practitioners calling the programme "shockingly inaccurate" and "wholly unfair". But what could we have expected anything better? The 27 minute show, which is broadcast to a national radio audience, could never have provided a nuanced and detailed discussion of the profession of PR in the 21st century. The industry is headspinningly vast - according to the latest figures from the PRCA, over 86,000 people are employed in the sector. It's broad church, too. At Hotwire we employ everything from copy writers to financial controllers, paid search specialists and graphic designers, and the wider market is even more diverse. It's unlikely that this was ever going to be covered to everyone in the industry's satisfaction.
It's a shame that the producers of the show didn't consult the two major professional bodies in the sector. But do those bodies need to be doing more to raise not just the profile of the industry, but the profiles of the leading lights in the sector? It's odd that none of the top 150 agencies in the sector were featured on the show, but do they any better represent the industry than the more boutique companies selected? And would the producers have been accused of size-bias if it had of featured larger agencies?
I can't help but think that the cries of dissatisfaction with the coverage of the industry will fall on the same deaf ears as the Artful Dodger's complaints and threats. And, was a 27 minute national broadcast programme ever the shop to truly do justice to the PR industry in the first place, anyway...?
Leaders of the PRCA and CIPR slammed the discussion as "shockingly inaccurate", "wholly unfair" and "somewhat naive". Other pros said the show failed to touch on the breadth of public relations, such as helping deliver corporate and public sector strategies and community awareness programmes. The panel discussion, hosted by Andrea Catherwood and produced by Steven Williams, comprised of three senior comms professionals and a senior journalist. It focused heavily on media relations, including how PR influences the news cycle, but also touched on crisis comms and whether journalism and PR skills are interchangeable.