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PR Myths and Facts for Marketers

A favorite former client calls PR “the cheapest form of advertising.” Not really. But his comment shows that, even among sophisticated marketers, misconceptions about PR and what we do for clients are still prevalent.

These are the top seven myths that persist about public relations, and a perspective on each.

1. PR is advertising lite. Not so. The two are so distinct that they shouldn’t be compared, and neither is a surrogate for the other. As one pro once put it, the comparison is a little like arguing which is more important to football, offense or defense. Ideally they work in concert.

2. PR is cheap. It’s true that a modest PR program’s cost is probably peanuts compared to a heavy paid media schedule, but it’s still significant. Budgets vary widely. The key is to match the need with the right PR resource and approach.

3. PR is publicity. Sure, media coverage is often an end result of a PR program, but a well-crafted plan starts with a strong strategy. To generate earned media, there’s plenty of foundation to be laid. Overall brand positioning, relationship-building, messaging, etc. – all are critical to a successful outcome. And when the publicity breaks, it’s just the beginning. We still trade a measure of control for credibility.

4. PR is about getting the word out. True, but many marketers don’t realize it’s a two-way street. A successful public relations program is designed to tell a brand or business story, but the PR team should also serve as a source of feedback and intelligence on what customers and influencers are saying and thinking. If you’re not using your PR function that way, you’re not maximizing your investment.

5. PR drives sales. When a prospect says they’re counting on the PR spend to replace other marketing tools and activities, it’s a red flag. Despite exceptions, PR isn’t the most reliable way to achieve demand generation. What it does best is build brand visibility and enhance reputation over time. When it comes to sales, it will often fall short, particularly because frequency is nearly impossible to achieve with publicity alone.

6. PR = press releases. The news stream is important, and well-written releases are essential, but they’re a commodity. Press releases don’t add up to a strategic PR program, and the impact of any one release is likely to be minimal. If you’re paying for news releases, you’re wasting your money.

7. PR isn’t measurable. Actually, it is. But this one’s tricky, for two reasons. One is that the old metrics that gauge volume and outputs, like impressions and ad equivalency, are outdated and inadequate. Again, the comparison to advertising doesn’t truly measure what PR does well.

The second challenge is that the research needed to demonstrate the value of PR’s outcomes can be nearly as costly as the program itself. The good news here is that as social media adoption grows, things like sentiment, message delivery, impact, and action are now trackable.

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