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In defence of public relations

Roy Greenslade fired a shot at the public relations industry yesterday, claiming that its growth combined with the decline of journalism was an affront to democracy.

Greenslade is Professor of Journalism at City of London University and a media commentator for The Guardian.

In a blog post on The Guardian web site prompted by an article by Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson in The Financial Times on the growth of the PR industry, Greenslade cites a statistic from Nick Davies’ excellent book Flat Earth News and data from the Holmes Report.

We reached a place in 2008 according to Davies were there are more PR practitioners than journalists in the UK. The Holmes Report records global revenues for the industry at more than $10 billion.

The simple fact is that media organisations employing journalists now are a lot leaner than they were in the past.

The Internet has broken the shackles of deadline, page count and schedule. It has made the distribution cost of content almost zero and provided search and social mechanisms to aide discovery.

Anyone with an Internet connection can be a critical voice and provide a contrary filter to corporate content. Journalists have been supplemented by publics noisy voicing their comment and opinion. That’s the story of Brand Anarchy.

For its part the public relations industry, supplemented by increasing numbers of former journalists, myself included, is helping organisations engage with publics in two-way dialogue.

That dialogue is seldom easy. You can see the evidence of organisations that get it wrong day in and day out on corporate web sites, blogs, Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.

The public relations industry for its own part is under scrutiny like never before called out by the self same critical publics. It’s response, a slow shift towards professional standards, remains a work in progress.

This is a story of changing business models fuelled by the Internet. It’s strengthening democracy not weakening it.

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Stephen Waddington

European Digital & Social Media Director at Ketchum and President of the CIPR. Author of Brand Anarchy and Brand Vandals; and editor and contributor to Share This and Share This Too.