“PR” is corrosive; “reputation” is not.

This is in some sense a small detail, but one important enough to be worth write-up and critique: AFAICT, “PR” is a corrupt concept, in the sense that if you try to “navigate PR concerns” about yourself /​ your organization /​ your cause area /​ etc., the concept will guide you toward harmful and confused actions. In contrast, if you try to safeguard your “reputation”, your “brand”, or your “honor,” I predict this will basically go fine, and will not lead you to leave a weird confused residue in yourself or others.

To explain the difference:

If I am safeguarding my “honor” (or my “reputation”, “brand”, or “good name”), there are some fixed standards that I try to be known as adhering to. For example, in Game of Thrones, the Lannisters are safeguarding their “honor” by adhering to the principle “A Lannister always pays his debts.” They take pains to adhere to a certain standard, and to be known to adhere to that standard. Many examples are more complicated than this; a gentleman of 1800 who took up a duel to defend his “honor” was usually not defending his known adherence to a single simple principle a la the Lannisters. But it was still about his visible adherence to a fixed (though not explicit) societal standard.

In contrast, if I am “managing PR concerns,” there is no fixed standards of good conduct, or of my-brand-like conduct, that I am trying to adhere to. Instead, I am trying to do a more complicated operation:

  1. Model which words or actions may cause “people” (especially media, or self-reinforcing miasma) to get upset with me;

  2. Try to speak in such a way as to not set that off.

It’s a weirder or loopier process. One that’s more prone to self-reinforcing fears of shadows, and one that somehow (I think?) tends to pull a person away from communicating anything at all. Reminiscent of “Politics and the English Language.” Not reminiscent of Strunk and White.

One way you can see the difference, is that when people think about “PR” they imagine a weird outside expertise, such that you need to have a “PR consultant” or a “media consultant” who you should nervously heed advice from. When people think about their “honor,” it’s more a thing they can know or choose directly, and so it is more a thing that leaves them free to communicate something.

So: simple suggestion. If, at any point, you find yourself trying to “navigate PR”, or to help some person or organization or cause area or club or whatever to “navigate PR,” see if you can instead think and speak in terms of defending your/​their “honor”, “reputation”, or “good name”. And see if that doesn’t make everybody feel a bit clearer, freer, and more as though their feet are on the ground.

Related: The Inner Ring, by CS Lewis; The New York Times, by Robert Rhinehart.