It happens all the time. I’m chatting away at a cocktail party or fundraising event and the inevitable question hits: “So, what is it you do for a living?”
When I say “PR,” I get the knowing nod, the raised eyebrows and the impressed sounding, “Oh.”
I can usually see the unspoken question lurking behind the eyes. “And what exactly is PR?”
So, lately I’ve been giving the answer to that question quite a bit of thought. I realize that much of what public relations is can be explained by talking about what it isn’t. There are so many preconceived notions out there, and so I started talking to my colleagues here at one of the biggest PR firms in Central Texas.
What follows are seven of the most common misconceptions about the PR industry and a few thoughts about the reality behind the myths.
1. PR is always glamorous.
I learned the truth of this the hard way when I was living in New York working for a global PR firm. A client was asked to provide a barber for Oprah’s anniversary show at Radio City Music Hall. The barber was going to shave Dr. Phil’s mustache.
After much preparation in the office, ordering branded barber capes, a chair for the stage, etc. I was told I would have to stay at the office. While they were filming the segment, I got a call that they needed extra shears for Dr. Phil, and needed me to come to Radio City STAT. I took a cab to Radio City, and when I arrived, I gave them the shears. That was it. I didn’t get to go inside, I was asked to go back to the office. It was a true Devil Wears Prada moment.
The truth is, that as PR professionals, we are usually the ones carrying the boxes, cleaning up the mess and sweating through our business attire. At events, we are the first to arrive, the last to leave and we’re always the ones eating in the kitchen.
Senior Account Executive
2. There’s no such thing as bad publicity.
In today’s world of online content, negative stories live forever and can be accessed in a split second, even if the person doing the search is just looking for general information about the company. I had a client for many years that did wonderful work for their customers—truly inspiring things. However, a national news outlet published an extremely negative story about something that happened at one of their subsidiaries under previous ownership. We spent the next two years working to bump that story down much lower in online searches, and were pretty successful, but of course it’s still out there even today.
Senior Vice President, Account Management
3. Myth: PR is all image and no substance.
Some people think the main work of a PR pros is to create a particular image for their clients—an image that may not even be accurate. Well, if that were the case and there was nothing substantive behind those public images, I guarantee the truth would eventually come out. Our goal is to create narratives with substance; to create stories that tell the full picture beyond the general public perception. We don’t hide or shy away from substance. We embrace it.
Vice President, Account Management
4. PR is only for crisis management.
A lot of times, a public relations professional is the last person brought into the mix. I’ve seen it time and time again, where senior level executives or board members don’t think to bring a PR firm or the staff PR professional in until things are already in crisis. You’ve got to think proactively with your public relations strategies, and your PR pro needs a seat at the corporate decision-making table during all of the most sensitive and high-level conversations, right alongside the CEO, the chief financial officer and the general counsel.
President and Chief Executive Officer
5. With PR professionals, you are always getting a spin on the truth.
Trust and transparency are key to building positive relationships with the public and with the media—as well as to implementing a successful public relations campaign. PR campaigns based on information that is not credible (or performed by individuals who are not credible) will do more harm than good. In situations involving less-than-positive news, it is best to acknowledge what has happened, apologize for the mistake (if the issue warrants an apology) and take action to correct it.
Vice President, Account Management
6. If you are good with people, you’re perfect for a career in PR.
Yes, it is important to build relationships to be successful in PR, but PR is much more than that. To be successful, you should have excellent writing skills. It’s even better if you actually enjoy writing. You also need attention to detail, a love of client service and willingness to do whatever it takes to get a job done.
Chief Operating Officer
7. PR is only for celebrities and politicians.
Good PR boils down to one thing: effective story telling. We believe everyone has a story to tell, and that there can be unlimited value to having the story told well. Whether you are a small non-profit, a fledgling new business or an established global brand (or yes, a celebrity or politician as well!), you must be able to effectively communicate who you are and why you matter. Often the details that make you unique, special, newsworthy and relevant are right under your nose. They just need the right person or team to piece them together in a meaningful way, and then get that package out there, so the world can see how great you are!