Dorothy Crenshaw May 31, 2009 | 10:10:54

Spin Doctors And Other PR Myths

I spent part of today preparing a presentation about optimizing the PR investment for a meeting of MENG (Marketing Executives Networking Group), and my advance research has reminded me that certain myths about our business persist.  Despite the growing prominence of PR and the fact that nearly everyone thinks he understands it, there’s a lot of misinformation being thrown around, even among marketing executives who should really know better.

Here, then, in no particular order, are my top 7 PR myths.

Myth #1 – Public relations = publicity.  Even sophisticated marketing professionals boil it down to delivering “ink.”  Of course, publicity is just a subset of a far broader discipline, which includes communications and media strategy, positioning, messaging, analyst relations, content development…I could go on.

Myth #2 – For good PR, all you need is contacts.  Wrong. Relationships bring access, but no amount of access will make up for bad timing, poor messaging, an inauthentic story, or just-plain-sloppy planning or execution.

Myth #3 – PR should guarantee results. There’s room for argument here, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that insisting on a predictable ROI is just an excuse for not making a management decision when the outcome is quantitative rather than qualitative. The truth is, there are no guarantees, and no perfect control over the PR-generated message, and every client should understand that. After all, can you attach an ROI to your reputation?

Myth #4 – Once I’ve hired a firm, I don’t need to do anything more. This is my personal favorite, because it’s happened to me.  Anyone contemplating an investment in PR should understand that their company’s commitment starts when the firm or consultant is hired. 

Myth #5 – Former journalists make the best PR professionals.  With due respect to reporters or producers who cross over, a journalism degree or background is no guarantee of success in PR, because PR takes more than excellent core communications skills.  Sales ability, motivation, business savvy, and creative imagination all figure in here.

Myth #6 – PR replaces advertising, for less $$. We PR professionals have been guilty of propagating this myth, but it’s so simplistic that it’s inaccurate. The truth is, the two are very distinct disciplines, and are most powerful when they work together. Jonah Bloom touches on the ad/PR relationship in his excellent piece about the basics of PR.  I also like to share one important distinction that a brilliant CEO and former client often made – use advertising for frequency, but PR for depth. 

Myth #7 – PR is about the magic bullet.  Some companies, particularly entrepreneur-led ones, think that one fantastic placement – an appearance on “Oprah,” for example – is all they need to drive visibility, sales, and profits. To quote Anthony Mora, “You’re launching a professional public relations campaign, not playing the lottery.”  Enough said.