Few communications disciplines are as misunderstood as the field of public relations. While a person in advertising may play a role in creating a commercial or newspaper ad, or a social media manager might create Instagram posts promoting a company’s product, PR deliverables are a bit harder to define.
With so many misperceptions floating around, PR pros can face an uphill battle when it comes to addressing client expectations and public perceptions.
Here’s the truth behind some of the most common myths about the PR industry.
Myth #1: PR is about controlling the news
One of the most damaging misperceptions about public relations is the idea that PR professionals have the power to control a news story.
PR teams can’t force a reporter to take interest in a story that isn’t newsworthy, or control the extent to which a client gets mentioned in an article. In most cases, they can’t see or approve an article before it goes to print.
At the end of the day, journalists and editors decide what story they want to file. A PR team can spend hours crafting the right messaging or preparing an executive for an interview, only to have their client’s name relegated to a single mention in the last paragraph of an article.
So why invest in PR?
A good media liaison can build positive relationships with reporters and give them what they need to write their story and meet their deadline: important facts and statistics, press releases, interviews and quotes. They can brainstorm unique angles and pitch interesting stories related to their client. They can create a robust media strategy that targets the right journalists and media outlets and contributes to a drumbeat of steady coverage. All of this helps achieve a brand’s ultimate goal of building awareness, enhancing reputation, and informing or shifting public perception.
Myth #2: PR = media coverage
While press releases and press conferences are tools in a PR pro’s arsenal, there’s much more to the world of PR than media.
The Public Relations Society of America defines PR as “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” PR people shape narratives and craft messages that build or protect a company’s reputation.
Public relations can be used effectively to engage, influence and educate. Sometimes we use the media, and other times we hold community events, bring together stakeholders, run social media campaigns or use other tools to achieve our objectives.
Myth #3: Any press is good press
Given the current media landscape, a negative story can go viral on social media and become fodder for every news network in the country before you can say “breaking news.” Any company that has lived through a PR crisis knows that bad publicity can have lasting impacts on a brand’s reputation.
Even one video of a company mistreating a customer, or a CEO going on a rant, has the potential to dominate the news cycle for weeks and inflict significant reputational harm. Though a brand’s sales and performance may eventually bounce back from a PR disaster after enough time has passed, its image may be forever tarnished in the eyes of the public.
It is possible to mitigate reputational damage and turn bad press into an opportunity. With a solid crisis communications plan in place, companies are better prepared to react to a crisis quickly and focus on offering an appropriate response.
Myth #4: PR is “fluff”
Far too often, PR is viewed as inessential to a company’s overall performance. In reality, it can be the most strategic function in your organization.
If your own employees don't understand your company’s reason for being, if your board thinks the company is out of step with the market, if shareholders think you have no long-term prospects, or if your customers aren’t reminded that your products are better than the competition, you will cease to exist in the marketplace.
The PR team has the very important role of communicating effectively with all of these vital stakeholders. Keeping the PR team involved in high-level strategy discussions from the start is crucial to the success of any organization. This will ensure that opportunities to tell your brand’s story will not be missed, and that positioning of news is optimal.
With regular exposure to reporters, PR pros have their finger on the pulse of the industry and can provide valuable guidance on timing, market trends and the competition. Don’t underestimate the strategic value of your PR team.
What PR misperceptions have you encountered from clients or co-workers?