I was at a PRSA meeting recently where a member (and former journalist) referred to her new career in PR as "coming over to the dark side."
I've always liked the sound of that quip, but I think we in the industry need to retire that line from our repertoire.
Instead, how about saying something like, "I left the media and went to the beige side."
Most of the time, we aren't covering up for toxic polluters or greedy landlords. Instead, we are simply trying to get our messages out in a crowded information environment. We work in shades of gray (or beige, to make it a little more colorful).
Of course, we strive to put the best spin on it we can -- but that's only natural. Everyone does it, even the media when it covers itself (if you don't believe me, check out the coverage of Phil Bronstein's departure as editor of the San Francisco Chronicle and the naming of his replacement -- who's the PR guy writing their news stories?).
The notion that we engage in "dark arts" doesn't serve our industry well, even as a joke. It perpetuates the falsehood that we only tell selective truths and frequently tell lies, all in the service of our clients' interest. It downplays our roles as facilitators, counselors and professional communicators.
Furthermore, it also perpetuates the myth that the media is the on the side of truth, justice and "the light." Journalists certainly aspire to be truthtellers and shedders of light, but they fail as often as they succeed. As often as not, they are busy shading the truth and telling stories the way they want to tell them -- nearly as much as we are. I think it is in journalists' best interest to refer to PR as the dark side, not ours. So let's not continue to play the game.
Rather, let's acknowledge that we work in a beige world, where "truth" is often in the eye of the beholder and it's not always easy to tell who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.
That, my friends, is closer to the truth.
So from now on, say that you're on "the beige side."