The "Dark Arts" of PR

31st October 2013

A project client recently alluded to the use of the “dark arts of PR” to try to gain coverage in the national press. I was actually baffled and asked what he was referring to. He explained himself, in a roundabout way and appeared to be expecting certain favours to be given, or called in, to secure coverage. 

I gently explained that the work of a public relations executive involves fostering relationships by providing relevant information and making introductions to experts that assist journalists and analysts in their work.  I reiterated that a national news journalist, writing for a consumer audience, will not cover a B2B technology story unless it affects the majority of readers and that trying to force fit a story would not endear me, or the client's company, to that journalist.

While this was an uncomfortable conversation to have with a client, it was interesting to learn that people still believe that PR professionals employ such complex and covert methods to gain publicity for their clients.

In my own experience, PR is really quite simple: provide useful information and spokespeople to the right journalists and they will view your client as a reliable source in the future. However, “simple” doesn’t mean easy. It requires time to identify the right publications and writers who are likely to be interested in each story and thought and creativity to tailor clients’ information to different audiences. 

PR executives who have a good rapport with particular writers will be more likely to gain their attention when pitching stories, but using this goodwill to try to shoehorn stories into their publications will damage the working relationship. 

The dark arts, as related in fairy tales, often involve short lived potions administered to provide an unfair advantage over opponents. If beers and cocktails fit into that category, then I could say that I've dabbled, though I've been as much under the influence as those we were seeking to influence. 

As a result of this unusual conversation, I looked into the nefarious practices my client alluded to. I was surprised to find that the CIPR actually refers to the “dark arts" within its guidance on PRs’ use of Wikipedia

You are reminded that “dark arts” are the antithesis of best practice public relations. Intentional deceit and anonymous or incognito activities are breaches of professional codes of conduct. Further information about the CIPR Code of Conduct can be found here.” 

Contrast this with the CIPR's definition of good PR: "Public Relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between and organisation and its public."

I think I’ll stick to the hard road thanks.