5 PR Myths Debunked

When someone asks a public relations person what they do for a living, and that person hesitates, it’s usually because of Samantha Jones.

Once and for all, real-life PR pros aren’t likely to resemble Samantha (Sex and the City), Olivia Pope (Scandal), Liz & Liz (Kroll Show), or Shauna Roberts (Entourage). Ironically, the PR profession can blame pop culture for its portrayal as a shallow, vapid, or glamorized profession. The shows featuring PR pros tend to be glossy, sexy, and light – and so are the characters depicted.

A new show for 2019 called “Flack” probably won’t clear up any misconceptions, because its main character, played by Anna Paquin (True Blood), works in celebrity PR. Alas, PR’s greatest fictional ambassador – and its smartest portrayal – was probably the president’s press secretary C.J. Cregg from The West Wing.

After all, “public relations” is a nebulous term, and it’s very reductive. In an earlier post, we explored whether the profession should change its name. But the PR myths go beyond terminology. Let’s debunk them, one by one.

5 PR Myths Debunked

PR is spin.

Spin, propaganda, flackery. These are not only loaded terms, but they’re inaccurate. Both “spin” and “propaganda” connote intentional misrepresentation of facts, and any good PR person will tell you that lying is completely out of place in the business. No respectable practitioner can maintain relations with key media without a reputation for credibility. Moreover, with the explosion of media and content channels and platforms, PR has come into its own as a driver of brand reputation and a tool for engaging critical audiences like customers or shareholders. And as a profession, PR plays a key role in the struggle against misinformation.

“Just get my name in the paper!”

Some think PR is just publicity. All it takes is getting the word out. That’s true, but the practice is far more nuanced than that. A good PR program will tell an organization’s story to its most important audiences, whether through media profiles, op-eds, digital videos, or even issue ads. But public relations doesn’t just put out stories and messaging. A strong corporate communications officer monitors his organization’s reputation by analyzing what’s coming in — customer attitudes, social content, media coverage, and more. At his best, he influences corporate culture and behavior by advising how decisions and actions will be perceived and covered. How is a business viewed in the community? How does it handle public criticism? What’s the corporate point of view on relevant issues, and how should it be conveyed? These kinds of guiding questions are only the start of a good PR person’s role.

PR is not an intellectual pursuit.

Actually, PR involves critical thinking, business smarts, and often a deep partnership with internal or external clients. Goals are data-driven, and outcomes must be measurable, so PR pros need quantitative skills. It’s also far more immersive than some may think. PR pros must both understand and consider the clients’ business goals. The 2017 CCI Corporate Communication Practices & Trends Study 2017 Final Report listed top core competencies for PR pros as: “global perspective; strategy development; change management; project management; consultative mindset; broader leadership skills.”

Whew. On a practical level, a PR team representing a client in the ad-tech sector has to understand concepts like addressable TV and programmatic digital advertising, and an alphabet-soup of acronyms like “GDPR,” “OTT,” and “MVPD.” It’s tough to pitch stories to the media when you don’t know which beats to target. It’s hard to ghostwrite an executive byline if you don’t understand the company’s mission. A good PR pro needs to learn not just lingo, but also the business.

PR is a quick fix.

Some companies, particularly startups, make the mistake of thinking DIY PR is easy. Others believe publicity is a quick fix for what ails a brand or corporation. Both are wrong. An effective public relations campaign requires research, message development, advance planning, and skilled execution, among other elements. And a strong publicity hit won’t solve a quality issue or fix reputation damage any more than a single ad will save a mediocre product. And earned media – what PR people call the articles or interviews that result from their media outreach – can take months to generate.

PR is about schmoozing VIPs.

Access is great, but it’s not everything. And the classic PR schmooze is mostly obsolete. Today’s PR pros earn the respect of journalists and influencers by offering them quality stories and insights, not by wining and dining them. The media don’t clamor for birthday cards or Edible Arrangements. Most don’t even want you to call them; who has time? See our earlier post for a deep dive on pitching the media and late-breaking best practices. As for clients, they’ve become sophisticated about how to locate and tap PR talent, and most are wary of a heavy-handed approach.

There’s nothing wrong with looking for the next C.J. Cregg or Olivia Pope if a company needs a great PR rep. But if you’re ready to find the right partner or are unsure how to research an agency’s suitability, check out 7 questions to ask potential PR agencies before hiring them.

Mom’s Wisdom Makes Good PR Advice

good PR advice
Who knew that when mom was dispensing her pearls of wisdom that she was preparing you for a public relations career? In case you never noticed, moms generally handle PR duties for families. They’re the most concerned with public perception, social responsibility, and community relations. The truth is, our moms’ teachings apply to virtually every aspect of life. In honor of Mother’s Day, we celebrate how some of mom’s classic guidance makes for sound PR advice.

“Mom-splaining” maxims make best PR practices

“One day you’ll thank me.” It’s a phrase every child has heard and none have believed. But mom has her eyes on the future, so she doles out tough love. Like a seasoned PR pro, she sees the big picture and is more concerned with long-term outcomes than immediate rewards. Like a top-flight PR team, a good mom is never a yes-man. It’s no good for the client or the PR firm if the client insists on a poorly conceived tactic or activity. The PR team must be trusted advisors  – the type that have the confidence to tell you what you don’t want to hear, but need to know. Check out this post to find out how to tell a client they’re wrong.

mom's advice best PR advice
“Always use sunscreen.” The glare of media attention can burn if you’re not careful. It’s all about thinking ahead and being prepared. Whether your PR team secures a keynote speaker gig at a conference or a TV interview for your CEO, media and message training are key. Going into an interview with no knowledge of the reporter or outlet can end in disaster, especially in a corporate crisis. PR pros don’t make a move without slathering on plenty of research and careful consideration. For a deep dive on media training, see our earlier post.

mom's good PR advice
“Sit up straight. Learn to behave.” Mom knows a bad reputation will follow you wherever you go, whether deserved or not. She’s also aware that a negative image has more far-reaching ramifications than mere embarrassing whispers in the hallway. She wants you to conduct yourself in a manner befitting a good citizen in order to get jobs, have friends, and fit in. Similarly, corporate reputation is no longer an abstract concern for businesses; today, it’s likely to impact their market cap. There’s an actual and measurable dollar value represented by corporate reputation. Finally, mom’s advice to “be yourself” is her way of championing authenticity – another powerful force in corporate PR.

good PR advice“Play well together and share.” Kids usually need to be taught that chores are easier when shared, and some never learn to share their toys with good grace. But life is a collaboration, and that includes working in public relations. A lot of PR fingerprints can be found on a single piece of client work. When we get a client win, no one player deserves to stand on the podium. It’s a team sport, and teammates should share the toil, the glory, and, when things go awry, the blame. Mom knew that sharing wasn’t just about generosity for its own sake; it’s a work and life skill, as in this post about six steps to better media relations.

good PR advice
“Honesty is the best policy.” If you have a sibling, you likely blamed them at some point for something you did. Sometimes it might even work — for a while. But ultimately, the lie probably got you worse punishment than the deed. The same honesty a PR pro uses to push back is useful in admitting when he’s wrong. Honesty and transparency are themes in all aspects of good corporate communications. Truth earns trust, whether in media relations, coworker connections, or client partnerships. A quintessential rule of crisis communications is a swift and sincere admission of responsibility, followed by a make-good. When your mom taught you to fess up, she was preparing you for a career where transparency plays a role.

As the brilliant 2014 video PR campaign by American Greetings demonstrated, the job of mother is the world’s toughest job. Without her lessons on wearing sunscreen and not entering the pool after eating, PR would be a tougher job. Happy Mother’s Day 2018!

How To Nail A PR Dream Job

It’s the time of year when PR agencies have the chance to bring on fresh talent as a crop of new college grads hits the job market. I’ve offered advice in previous posts for those determined to build a career in PR or communications, and it holds up pretty well. But it’s time to add, update, and amplify for 2018.

This year’s graduates are entering the workforce at a time of low unemployment and high demand for smart, industry-focused PR talent. Unlike those entering the workforce on the heels of the recession, today’s PR hopefuls are likely to be welcomed by top agencies and corporations. They may even face multiple job offers. So, how to find the perfect first PR job?

Consider a PR agency

There are several ways to break into PR. A job in the corporate communications group of a major company, a position at a nonprofit, or a PR post in a marketing or ad agency are the most common. But at a first job at a PR agency is likely to offer the greatest degree of mobility as well as variety. Most significantly, you’ll learn what you love, what you don’t, and how public relations works from A to Z.  That’s a great foundation for anything that comes later.

Research specialist sectors

Public relations has become very specialized, so in addition to core skills like journalistic writing or visual content production, it pays to learn about the various segments you may target in a job search or career plan. A career focused on tech startups and one in healthcare PR will have some commonalities, but the clients and day-to-day work can be very different. Most importantly, the sector trends and business challenges can help guide your early career steps and inform where you choose to dedicate those early years.

Talk to everyone

Networking isn’t only about getting interviews. Curiosity is an underrated quality among PRs and business people in general. It’s impressive to respective employers, and the information you get in background sessions can inform better decisions. Those early “informational interviews” can also be the beginning of an informal professional network. The more you know about the business of PR or the specific company or sector you’re targeting, the greater the chance of a work situation suited to your goals and talents.

Create content

PR is all about differentiation, so a blog or personal website is a good way to stand out. Study bloggers in communications, marketing and the vertical sectors you’re interested in. Consider a short digital video about what you’re most passionate about. Join online communities so you’re current on industry issues. Develop opinions on the topics that concern communicators, like measuring outcomes or reputation management in the digital age. Even a punchy, well-written email or a colorful resume can attract attention to get you to the next step with a top employer.

Play the part

It’s a good idea to go after your ideal job with the same skills and enthusiasm you would use in the workplace – pitching a story, or securing a new client. You’ll want to research your high-priority targets thoroughly, approach them with a creative pitch, and use persistence and persuasion in your follow-up. If you’re not comfortable treating your first job like a selling situation, then agency PR may not be right for you.

Tell them something they don’t know

Anyone who’s recruiting will tell you there’s a certain sameness to initial interviews with graduates hoping to break into PR or communications. They usually play it safe, and that’s okay. But bear in mind what a new graduate can offer. Senior professionals know how fast our industry is changing, and they want to keep up. Be mindful of your status as a digital native and offer a point of view or opinion that your employer may not be thinking about. Whether an insight about your generation, the reputation of PR as an industry, or the new study you read about digital privacy, be informed and an informer. It will help you stand out and show your value to your employer of choice.

5 Ways PR Beats Paid Advertising

PR, advertising, and marketing should be working together as well-oiled gears in a powerful machine that propels a brand toward success. While it shouldn’t be a contest, it’s worth noting that in some instances, public relations can yield a greater return on investment. Especially in the B2B tech sector, PR programs are essential to gaining competitive advantage in a crowded marketplace.

PR can shine in B2B tech

PR confers third-party endorsement

Many B2B companies engage in lengthy sales cycles where customers make a large commitment of capital – and faith. Ads alone may not inspire the confidence a customer needs to make an important decision. Customers who read or hear about an amazing enterprise software company in analyst reports, recommendations from third-party influencers, white papers, executive bylines, and in tech news outlets have gain a degree of trust that an ad campaign can’t provide.


For smaller firms, PR can reduce marketing spend

If you’re a scrappy startup or an early stage tech company, you may not have the capital for massive advertising budgets. By supplementing advertising with a PR campaign, a brand can earn visibility that attracts leads. Ads pop up and disappear, while blog posts, news articles, and white papers stay searchable for months ie even years. The longer life span of PR content and the snowball effect of earned media and can lead to great ROI for smaller B2B companies.

B2B decision-makers rely on research

And that research comes from PR content. Both profitability and reputation ride on the decisions of B2B buyers. In 2017, Forbes reported: “Most B2B buyers say they rely heavily on white papers (82%), webinars (78%), and case studies (73%) to make purchasing decisions. Close behind are e-books (67%), infographics (66%), and blog posts (66%).” In a 2018 study by TrustRadius, 75% of respondents said they used info from third-party sources (analyst reports, independent media news, and consultants) to make their decisions. Business buyers prefer hard, unbiased data over sales pitches and marketing collateral. When it comes to differentiating yourself from the pack, these PR can surpass advertising.

PR offers more bang for the content buck

In many ways B2B PR is a more efficient engine of promotion. The life span and versatility of PR content allows it to do more work with less effort. For example, a research study conducted by the PR team can be used and reused in many different formats, like white papers, blog posts, and earned media coverage. An executive’s participation in a trade show panel can yield video, media coverage, blog posts, and social media engagement. Plus, earned and owned content can boost SEO over the long haul, driving more leads in your direction.

PR offers credibility

Credibility begets trust. In today’s growing atmosphere of skepticism, trust is a priceless commodity. The fundamental power of PR bears repeating: impartial third-party endorsements outshine the tooting of one’s own advertorial horn. Sound marketing and advertising can be a good start in building credibility, but a well-conceived PR plan builds the type of reputational value that lasts. And solid reputation management creates a litany of benefits. A good reputation is social currency that can diminish the effects of a crisis event, assist in attracting the finest talent, and inspire the team.

MDG Advertising reported that 70 percent of internet users want to learn about products through content versus traditional advertisements. People don’t want the hard sell. Plus, advertising is usually a one-way communication. In this era of two-way communications, public relations is a better tool for engagement with stakeholders. If you’re in it for the long haul, it is unwise to neglect the PR part of the equation. If your marketing, advertising, and PR teams are collaborating in accordance with the brand’s business goals, your company is setting itself up for sustained growth.