Why it’s harder on the “Dark Side”


Behind the Spin editor Richard Bailey talks to PRVirgin.com about the “dark side to PR” – but it’s probably NOT what most journalists think it is.


Journalists enjoy describing public relations as the dark side.

It comes from a sense of moral superiority, because journalists are trained to produce truthful accounts of events.

By contrast, PR practitioners are necessarily biased because of their affiliations – and at best can only strive for accuracy.

To an unsubtle mind, the distinction becomes a stark one of truth against lies (since public relations amounts to propaganda).


Journalism has a heroic history. Free speech is a key element in a free society – so journalists can present themselves as on the side of the angels.

Why, then, is there a well-trodden one-way path between journalism and public relations?

  • Perhaps because of the gap between myth and reality. The Leveson Inquiry, let’s remember, was into the ethics and practices of the press, not into the lies of the PR industry.
  • It could be job opportunities and salaries (there are over 60,000 PR practitioners in the UK and average salaries are around £50,000).
  • It could be that every journalist has tales of useless PR people contacting them with crass promotional stories and believes they could do the job so much better.

So for all those journalists yet to move over to the dark side, let me tell you some home truths.

There is a dark side to PR, but it’s not what you’re thinking. The dark side of PR – and the reason for the higher salaries – is that it’s a management discipline. (I call it dark because it’s hidden from view).

Sure, you can manage your time and meet deadlines. But can you manage clients? Can you win competitive pitches, develop strategic programmes and manage expectations?

Can you manage teams and budgets and make a profit out of your PR activity? Can you measure the effectiveness of campaigns and prove a return on investment?

Or can you fit within a corporate hierarchy, and let the boss take credit for your work? Can you work with marketing, IT, HR and legal teams?

Public Relations word cloud

The dark side of PR is that it’s an intermediary role: you navigate the uncertain territory between organisations and publics, requiring a mastery of media and communication channels and well-developed listening skills.

Writing press releases and dealing with journalists is not the hard part of PR. Nor is it even the most important part of PR. Nor is it growing in importance given the rise of digital and social media.

But nor is content marketing and SEO the whole story either. Nor even is this a communication discipline.

So when you see a flashy PR person driving an expensive sports car, you might think you’re looking at an over-promoted spiv. I think you’re looking at an agile entrepreneur who has developed a niche business service in a highly competitive environment.

Or you’re looking at a manager with broad shoulders who can cope with the vanity and insecurity of chief executives and celebrities and provide them with calm advice in troubled times.

Could you do that? It’s not that easy – and nor is newsroom experience necessarily the best preparation.

** What are your views? Please feel free to comment below:





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