Public Relations is one of those industries that a lot of people don’t fully get — it’s not advertising, sort of marketing, and under the roof of communications. PR is spreading information from an organization or individual to the public, typically done via media outlets. However, there are many myths about PR gurus and their practices, so it’s time to clear them up.
1. We Want to Be Annoying
Journalists find PR people annoying, and PR people find journalists frustrating. But, the myth here is that PR people want to be annoying; we don’t want to, but yes, sometimes we are. For example, when a journalist tells you they’re taking the exclusive on your story (which means you can’t send it to other journalists), then cuts off communication, you’re forced to stalk them and hunt them down to get 100% assurance so you’ll get a feature from them. If not, your client holds you accountable for news not making a splash. Do I really want to spend hours tweeting at reporters, messaging them on Facebook, or commenting on past articles? I know they’re busy, but I just need insurance we’re getting coverage.
2. We’re Current Day Mad Men
Often times when I say I’m a PR person, a non-communications person will ask if my job resembles Mad Men. Am I the Peggy? Is my boss Don? Is there a drunk Roger that strolls in and out? First, Mad Men is advertising, paying for your client to be in a newspaper, whereas PR is getting your client in the newspaper for free – aka by pitching a good story. We don’t schmooze journalists by offering them steak dinners and fine liquor; we figure out what they cover and anticipate a good story for them. Boozy lunches have been frowned upon for a few decades now, as is harassing women in the workplace, thankfully.
3. We Can Make People Read an Article
When we get a big hit (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, etc.), it’s pretty exciting for our clients and for us. So we get the client in one of the top publications, and then we get a complaint the next day that it didn’t bring enough traffic to the website. The problem is – we can get a story in the paper, but we can’t make an audience read it. We try, oh we try, but if a journalist publishes the story at 5pm on a Friday, we have no way to force readership.
4. We’re All Spin Doctors and Liars
The unfortunate truth is that many big bad companies have PR people to spin the bad things they do. But, that’s not everyone! We do PR for technology startups — new innovative tech that makes life easier. The companies we work with simply want more online noise about them, so we use PR tactics to get the word out about their companies. Non-profits have PR people who help build awareness around a cause. So though we may be able to spin stories in a favorable light, sometimes it’s to get attention surrounding a good cause.
5. Working in PR is One Big Party
Yes, going to events and networking is a big part of being a good PR person, but that goes for many other industries as well. When I go to an event, however, I either have a one drink max or drink soda water all night; if you’re drunk and sloppy, you’re not going to win any new business or build relationships with journalists (both are key to a successful career in PR). So though you may have to attend parties or functions, you typically don’t get to enjoy them as much as other attendees.
Public Relations is a very interesting industry to work in today, as times have changed and best practices are evolving dramatically. There are, however, common misconceptions about the industry in general that have haunted it since its beginning. Hopefully as the digital age moves forward, those misconceptions will be cleared up once and for all.