In My Opinion: Scott Douglas: Liar, liar, so you’re a PR consultant for hire?

THERE is always something a bit difficult to digest over the festive holiday period, or some sort of nagging unpleasant hangover which trails you into the New Year.

Yet it was neither the overdose of Brussels sprouts nor the copious amounts of Hogmanay alcohol which gave me a sour taste and a queasy stomach, this time around.

What actually left me with a bilious aftertaste came during the whirl of festive socialising and the inevitable round of, “So, what do you do?” questions when meeting new people.

More accurately, it was three occasions when I told such new acquaintances that I worked in public relations, only to met with responses which more or less amounted to: “So you lie for a living, then?”

This is particularly irksome, as I thought I’d left behind those sorts of knowing jibes when I quit journalism. Over the past decade, telling people I’m in PR has generally felt pretty respectable, after all those previous years of watching people flinch when I told them I was a tabloid hack.

So why the sudden rash of ‘liar’ digs when trotting out my ‘flack’ credentials in the past few weeks?

I’d be keen to hear if other PRs have experienced anything similar.

While I’m not daft enough to think my own ‘sample of one’ experiences represent some sort of trend, I’m happy to admit that three separate incidents in such a short time frame took me aback a bit.

I’m no wide-eyed ‘naïf’ who believes the entire PR sector to be involved in a lofty and noble pursuit. But the possibility that those outside the sector could think PR in the 21st century is driven by lies and deceit is frankly gobsmacking.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen everything – from non-existent WMDs and phone hacking to MPs expenses –  turn public opinion away from any notion of ‘acceptable’ lying.

Journalists, politicians and party spinners have all been ensnared by lies, but all in all I’m hard pushed to think of any major or enduring scandals involving concerted and deliberate lying by PR people.

Indeed, last year when American deception artist, Ryan Holiday, brought out his book, ‘Trust Me, I’m Lying – Confessions of a Media Manipulator‘, the resultant furore among reputable PR professionals was huge.

Here in Scotland, I think we can be proud of the ethical, hard-working and – dammit – plain honest PR community we have.

Every profession may have its rogues and I’m sure Scottish PR is no exception. But let’s be clear: writing a breathlessly glowing media release or presenting positive information while crossing fingers and hoping a journalist or blogger doesn’t ask awkward questions does not a liar make.

I remain convinced the vast majority of practitioners in Scotland would simply refuse to lie on behalf of a client or an employer, particularly those signed up to the codes of conduct of either the Chartered Institute of Public Relations or the Public Relations Consultants Association.

If we’re talking about ‘over-egging the pudding’, ‘gilding the lily’, or ‘spinning a line’, most PR people will cheerfully admit they’ve been guilty as charged, on occasion.

But outright lying? Nae chance – not least because it’s bad for the digestion.

Scott Douglas is a director of Holyrood PR. He is also the founder of Deadline News Agency and a former reporter with the Daily Record, The Journal and the Edinburgh Evening News.