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Common Misconceptions About Public Relations

As a PR professional from a small Midwestern town where public relations is the least traditional career path one could choose, I’ve heard every wild assumption there is to hear about the profession—given the person I’m talking to even knows what it is. I often just revert to explaining the differences between PR and advertising as a starting point. This is not coming from a place of judgment, simply a place of being too tired of explaining earned media, crisis communications and digital marketing since choosing my university major nearly a decade ago.

Below, I’ve compiled a list of popular misconceptions about PR. Going forward, I may start sending a link to this blog to whoever asks and politely divert the conversation to other topics rather than my career choice. I invite you to do the same if you feel so inclined, like when you’re just not into giving your whole spiel to a perfect stranger at a bar.

“Public relations is spin.”

This is an outdated idea, point-blank. Most of all, it is insulting to media professionals and you, the consumer. It assumes they will buy a fabricated story or point of view without doing their own research or thinking critically. PR professionals that are good at their job know transparency and honesty is the best way to earn customers, fans and supporters. Building trust and responding to crises in a timely and ethical manner is the best way to do business, and nowadays, you may be hard-pressed to find a publicist who disagrees.

“PR is simply media relations.”

Somedays I wish this was true. What PR really consists of is: managing expectations, helping to build a brand, crafting messaging, (a lot of) research and analytics, identifying relevant event opportunities, creative storytelling, fostering relationships, constant media monitoring, writing, writing, and more writing, coordinating shoots, webinars, and meetings, and most important of all… follow-ups.

“Publicists just tell journalists what to say.”

Publicists pitch news and story ideas related to or about their clients. It is ultimately up to editors to decide its value or to even include the client in the piece. Journalists didn’t take on a mountain of student debt for an underpaid career just to publish what we tell them to!

“All publicity is good publicity.”

Welcome to 2022. You should know by now that this idea (originating in the 1800s) does not hold up today. With the rise of social media, everyone has a voice and everyone votes with their dollars and clicks. While stirring up controversy may be tempting on your company’s road to brand recognition, ultimately, it runs the risk of damaging your reputation beyond repair.

“PR is only used to sell more products.”

PR is much more than selling products; however, sales are a welcomed side effect of a job well done! PR can close a deal by cultivating trust in a company through media placements and unpaid reviews. Still, the main goal is to create brand recognition, loyalty and buzz by educating your audience on how a product or service can add value to their lives.

“PR is a waste of money. I can do it myself.”

By all means…

All jokes aside, PR experts can help you see the bigger picture of how your brand is perceived and craft a strategic and aligned vision to meet your company goals. If nothing else, a PR team is a great sounding board with (hopefully) decades of combined experience and diverse points of view.

“The biggest agencies will get the biggest results.”

Not always. Agencies come in all shapes and sizes, just like everything else. First and foremost, finding an agency that aligns with your company’s values and communication style and has experience in your industry (or with your target audiences) is essential. The downsides of large agencies can include high retainers, account teams spread too thin and lack of attention due to “higher priority” clients.
Just like most fields, PR isn’t black and white. There are nuances to be considered and education to be done around what PR is. Sure, there are publicists out there who trade favors to keep their clients’ mishaps out of the public eye or celebrity couples who may not be quite as in love as the photos would make you believe—but most day-to-day PR is fielding emails, relationship building, and managing brands. We’ll leave the glamor to the ones walking the red carpets.

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