Since I did not attend Dr. Batchelor's lecture and thus don't know all the details, I'm on shaky ground if I take a firm stand for or against his statement that, yes, PR is evil, and that one cannot redeem it merely by stating, "But I'm working ethically." His point is that the profession is in disarray, largely because of the widespread misuse of public relations to manipulate and deceive.
And yet I'm troubled by the conclusion. As I look back on the discussion, it seems the opinion of whether or not PR is evil is a bit like deciding whether a Glock-17 handgun is evil: It depends what you do with it. If I'm using the Glock to, say, become good at target shooting, or as a means to defend my family against attack, that's one thing. If I use the Glock to relieve the local convenience store of its financial gain, or a disagreeable person of his life, that's something else.
Likewise, PR itself is neither inherently good nor inherently evil. It is a function, a tool for sharing information, creating relationships, and influencing perspectives and action. If it's done honestly and transparently, that's good. If it's done with the intent to mislead, that's wrong.
I do think Dr. Batchelor makes an excellent point about the misuse of PR. It happens often, and it's surprising how easily even the most "ethical" practitioner can be drawn into it. Matt Friedman, co-partner at Tanner Friedman, has pointed to the example of press releases and company spokespersons insisting that a 60-something CEO's sudden departure is merely "to spend more time with family." It's a lie, we know it's a lie, and yet we perpetuate it because that's the reason we're given, and we still want to have a job to go to tomorrow.
Where I'm willing to agree is that evil certainly exists within public relations, just as it exists within the human race. And even if we individually practice the highest ethical standards, we cannot simply rest upon that laurel. We need to preach the gospel, as it were--fairly easy to do--and call out those who defy that gospel--not so easy to do, for we'll surely face persecution for doing so.
And yet, I certainly agree with Dr. Batchelor's other conclusion: Public relations is worth saving.