I've been updating my lecture notes on 'PR as publicity'.
Traditionally, the academic world has not shown an interest in this field. Yet Jacquie L'Etang, the academics' academic, wrote this in her new textbook in a discussion of celebrity PR:
'Much of the PR role in celebrity circles is focused on promotion, publicity and media relations, and public relations has received some of its bad press from this association’. Yet ‘according to public relations scholarly conventions, publicity is a small part of public relations’.
Publicity is the most visible part of PR, and so it's open to criticism and discussion. There's criticism when PR stunts backfire, as happened to a mobile phone company in Latvia. There's much discussion when individuals create hoaxes as an attention-seeking ruse.
I'm not sure the public is any more or less gullible than in the past, but the speed with which rumours can circulate from blog to newsroom and on to social media sites makes it easier to set the hare running (and makes fact-checking online a difficult exercise).
I can defend PR-as-entertainment (in the style of 'Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster'). But a discussion of PR as publicity has to lead into a discussion of ethical principles. Good causes have to adhere to first principles, however much they may be tempted to use shock and exaggeration to further their aims.