In his column in the Globe and Mail this morning, Rick Salutin reveals a serious bias against the PR industry. What's that, you say? A reporter who's got an axe to grind against PR?
Everyone (particularly a newspaper columnist, who's paid to fan the flames of controversy) is entitled to his/her opinion. On that note, here's mine. This column is an unwarranted cheap shot at the PR profession.
Salutin uses the Michael Bryant affair as his platform (the recent case in which a former Ontario politician, in the car with his wife, was involved in an altercation with a bike courier which resulted in the courier's death). After noting that the media coverage of the event has served the public well, Salutin writes, "But there's one element that irritates me severely. It's the presence, since very early, of a public-relations firm aiding Mr. Bryant."
The rest of the column doesn't seem to have a clear point. It just rehashes journalism's old disdain for PR. He also suggests that the other problem at play is that many journalism grads end up in public relations. And that a "depressing quantity of news stories, especially in areas such as medicine, now come from well-produced PR packages sent on behalf of pharmaceutical firms and the like."
He bemoans the fact that PR people "may put words in client's mouths, vet their ideas and advise on whether to speak at all".
Is this guy for real? Salutin has been at this game a long time. His feigned naivete on the role of PR comes off more like a columnist's device than genuine concern. If a prominent public figure gets tangled up in a situation like Bryant did recently, their first two phone calls should be to their lawyer and a PR firm. The man's career, reputation and freedom are on the line. And given the media's love of 'David versus Goliath' stories, the bicycle courier starts out as the clear favourite in the court of public opinion, even though the truth has yet to emerge. Bryant likely has a million things going through his mind. Hiring experienced professionals for council on how to handle his one shot when the TV cameras are shoved in his face is not shocking, insulting, or devious. It's common sense. And if Salutin happened to be the unfortunate individual in the car that night, I'll bet he would have the Globe and Mail's PR firm (that's right, the Globe and Mail has a PR firm) on speed dial - pronto.