Misconceptions vs. Realities of Public Relations

Many people assume public relations is a glamorous and party-filled career. I know I did after watching Samantha Jones host red carpets and celebrity-filled parties on “Sex and the City.” This idealized perception of PR has even been dubbed the “Samantha Syndrome” and refers to the misleading way PR is often depicted through TV and movies.

However, PR is rarely what it seems on TV. It typically requires long hours at a desk, on a computer like many jobs. Countless hours are spent following up with media or influencers via emails and calls to get the perfect coverage for a client. Lots of time is spent in meetings with clients and/or colleagues strategically planning for the next successful campaign. Although PR may not always live up to its glamorous portrayal, it is a fun and extremely rewarding career. And maybe, every once in a while, you get to attend those extravagant events as seen on TV.

PR by definition is “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics,” according to PRSA. This strategic communications process encompasses several tactics that likely include social media, influencers/spokespersons, media relations, crisis communications, special events and much more. PR is all about boosting brand awareness and reputation, but it is a lengthy process that requires time and thorough planning.

Here are four common misconceptions about PR and the realities behind them:

1. MISCONCEPTION: PR and advertising are the same.

REALITY: PR and advertising are NOT the same thing, although they can complement each other when used strategically. The overarching difference is that PR is gained through earned (unpaid) media and advertising is paid media. Advertising guarantees specific placement with the desired outlet, but often is very expensive, especially if used consistently for most impact. PR cannot always guarantee media placement with a desired outlet at a specific time, but with a smart strategy and consistent pitching, the story will eventually be placed if relevant, reaching the brand’s target audience. PR is also more credible than advertising. For example, consumers read Vogue to learn about fashion from the experts’ stories, not from the half-page branded advertisement (granted, these ads can provide inspiration). Although PR and advertising both aid in achieving a brand’s objectives, one cannot be substituted for the other.

2. MISCONCEPTION: PR is only necessary during a crisis.

REALITY: While every brand hopes to avoid a crisis, crisis planning is necessary and the communications aspect should involve the expertise of a PR practitioner. Seeking PR assistance once the crisis has occurred is too late. PR is best used proactively with a prepared plan of action for when an inevitable crisis strikes. As mentioned above, a goal of PR is building reputation and brand awareness. PR is needed before, during, and after a crisis. While one can never predict when a crisis will occur, an experienced PR practitioner can help you be prepared to resolve the crisis as quickly as possible and rebuild reputation.

3, MISCONCEPTION: Partnering with PR practitioners guarantees immediate national media placement.

REALITY: The common saying “it’s a marathon not a sprint” is the name of the game with PR. First, the brand identity must be clearly defined. This can mean different things for every business, but the primary objective is that your PR team – and all internal teams – clearly understand the brand’s vision and goals in order to create an effective, attainable PR strategy. Once the groundwork is established and a PR strategy is created, the PR team can begin implementing tactics and gaining traction. It is vital that brands are aware that coverage is rarely immediate; patience and consistent messaging over time are required to achieve measurable results.

4. MISCONCEPTION: PR spins the truth to make a brand look good.

REALITY: This common misconception couldn’t be further from the truth. PR practitioners are committed to building relationships based on honesty and transparency. One of the most important requirements when it comes to pitching or sending out a press release is that all information is accurate and credible. Brands and PR practitioners can only build trust and credibility with their publics and the media by operating in an honest, straightforward manner. According to Forbes honesty is the entire premise on which the PR industry is founded.”

Whether you are seeking PR assistance or considering a career in the field, we hope this article provides a better understanding of how public relations truly works.