I could actually title this blog post, ‘1000 Flawed Conceptions Of The PR Industry‘, but I want to keep you entertained.
Because truth be told our industry is parlously flawed. There are many negative perceptions of the Public Relations industry and what it is. This is largely in thanks to a small number of those who have been deceitful and devious, and who have left an impenetrable stain on our industry that we just can’t seem to shake. But actually, Public Relations is a core fundamental of any successful business. “Everything we do and say is PR”, and the professionals (like moi) are the ones who are making sure that what’s being said is the right thing.
Not many know what PR stands for or what it means, because it doesn’t necessarily mean one thing. I think this – and the negative perceptions bound to the industry at the hands of a corrupt few – are the two main drivers to the countless flawed conceptions associated with Public Relations.
I took to Twitter to ask the question ‘what’s the stereotype that annoys you most about Public Relations?’ and was met with an unprecedented number of replies. I planned to write this blog post many moons ago, but I wanted to make sure I accounted for all the responses I received, hence it taking a while longer.
So here’s a handful of some of the most common flawed stereotypes and conceptions of PR. My own and yours. And here’s me debunking a few too.
1. Anybody Can Do It
Does my degree count for nothing?
My biggest irk with the PR industry is that some think that if you’re loud and confident enough, you can do it. Wrong. Nailing a great PR strategy takes more effort, intelligence, creativity, innovation and passion than I could ever tell you. Granted you don’t necessarily need a degree to make it in Public Relations, but it’s certainly not for anybody.
“People think it is easy, that anyone can do it.” – Carrie Eddins.
“That people think it’s easy and everyone can do it We spend hours and hours in training and time spent on the job in order to learn!” – Katheryn Rhian Watson.
“That anyone (including journalists) can just do PR rather than it being a profession and a management discipline which is more than an ability to write & a contacts book.” – Mandy Pearse.
“That anyone can do comms… So why have a comms expert/team/department?” – Cornelius Alexander.
2. You Have To Be Extroverted
Wrong again. You can be quiet and still make it in PR. I actually wrote a big article about being an introvert in Public Relations, and I was glad to realise I wasn’t the only one who prefers to get my head down and crack on with things as opposed to being the loudest one in the room.
“Sex in the City.” – Laura Sutherland.
“That all PRs are dense airheads who just go out for brunch and drink Prosecco all day sweetie darling?” – Lorna Robertson.
3. All Publicity Is Good Publicity
I’m currently reading Rich Leigh’s book ‘Myths Of PR’ (It’s taken me longer than expected as I was gifted *another* book on Nazi Germany and I ended up starting it when I had nothing else to hand, and now I can’t stop reading it). The subheading of the book reads ‘All Publicity Is Good Publicity And Other Popular Misconceptions’ so I think that speaks for itself really. Just because it’s in the news, it doesn’t mean we want it to be there.
4. Getting Coverage Is All We Do
Absolutely not. Getting coverage for clients is great, but that isn’t all there is to it.
“My pet hate perception and stereotype is that PR is all about media coverage when that is a tiny percentage.” – Graham Parker.
“That PR is no more than ‘getting stories in the paper.’” – Gemma Pettman.
“It’s all about going for free in newspapers/shows…” – Radu.
5. It’s 90% Brunches & Liquid Lunch
I can confirm I have not once attended a brunch, nor a liquid lunch.
6. We’re Masters Of Spin
There’s plenty of people to blame for this, and I’m pretty sure the stereotype that “PR = spin” is age-old. However, PR is entirely ethical and the ‘Spin Doctor’ era is well and truly dead and buried.
“The phrase ‘you can spin that for us’ is also one that springs to mind” – Ben Lowndes.
“PR is manipulative and scheming related.” – Maria Del Pilar.
‘Spin.” – Laura Sutherland.
“So you want to lie for a living then?” – Lucy Hayball.
“I don’t like the myth that the PR industry is just spin – good PR practitioners care about a lot more than just spinning a story!” – Steph Palmer.
“That it’s all lies and spin.” – Karl O’Doherty.
“The spin doctor image!” – David Andrew.
“That we’re all about spin.” – Matt Baldwin.
“That PR= Gimmick, spin doctoring and lies.” – Josephine Appiah-Nyamekye Sanny.
7. PR Means Free Advertising
It doesn’t. Update: 2 years on and I’m still writing about this, sheesh.
8. It’s Just Sending Out Press Releases
Nope! For one, sending our press releases is media relations, just one branch of PR. And even then, our jobs require so much more than just hitting send on a ‘CC all’ email. Add extensive researching, campaign mapping, trend pickups, relationship building and content writing to the equation and you have about an eighth of what goes into a media relations campaign.
“Thinking that PR is just as simple as emailing a publication or taking a journo out and that there’s no strategy behind it.” – Louisa Clack.
“Everything is about the press release.” – Laura Sutherland.
“That everything needs a quick press release and the attitude that ’we can just ignore that.’ the perception that all we do is write a few tweets and whack out posters” – Harriet Smallies.
“That we just work with journalists/media. I’ve been lobbying government, helped build a website, planned a brand launch, created marketing materials and run social channels for half a dozen companies, that was just last week!” – Tom Gilby.
“That it’s all media relations.” – Karl O’Doherty.
9. A Viral Social Media Tweet Is Success
Social media certainly ties into PR, but they’re actually two separate entities. One viral tweet isn’t going to change the face of your brand forever. And you can’t just put your entire PR strategy to bed if you achieve virality once.
“That everything is just instant, quick and effortless. People see tweets go viral and turn into news stories and think that’s how it all works. When it can take months to plan, execute, pitch, and get coverage for decent campaigns! WE WORK HARDER THAN THEY THINK “ – Fran Griffin.
“Making something viral.” – Laura Sutherland.
10. It’s Fluffy
This is a misconception we’ve earned due to so many prettifying the lifestyle of working in PR on social media. From an outsider looking in, it certainly does look like all fun and games. But there’s actually so much substance in PR and so much hard work that goes into it by its professionals. That’s something that social media could never care to show.
“Along with many of the above, that many salespeople and misguided business leaders still think it’s ‘fluffy'” – Andrea Hounsham.
“That it’s fluffy. “Oh this is the PR girl” is said a lot too.” – Kerri Watt.
“What annoys me most is not the stereotypes themselves but those who perpetuate the stereotypes by engaging in stereotypical behaviours/practices. They are the ones who hold our profession back and make a mockery of it. Rarely are they called out for it/held accountable.” – Mary Beth West.
“I have been called ‘a PR person’ as an insult, like it is something I should be ashamed of, rather than proud of.” – David Fraser.
“That I have *all the words* but it’s really about *all the work.*” – Ngoc Thach.
11. Handing Out Leaflets & Promoting Club Nights Is PR
This is one of the most laughable misconceptions out there. The job of getting people into clubs in popular tourism destinations (Zante, Magaluf, that kind of thing) is labelled online as ‘PR Rep’ but it’s not really, is it?
“I met someone who thought my being a PR meant I handed out flyers and free shots offers outside nightclubs” – Mark Perkins.
“That we give out free drinks coupons outside nightclubs – they need to stop advertising for ‘PRs’ when it comes to these jobs.” – Orlagh Shanks.
12. “Can You Make Us BIG Overnight?”
Believe it or not, there’s no ‘PR magic wand’.
“That it’s just media and how much coverage have you got? – “Like, can you make us big, I mean, really BIG overnight!” Like my sole purpose is to carry ‘trolley’ or whole digital library with me! I still get asked that, by some global leading firms! HELLO… That is just 1 part!” – PRKSheeehan.
“The worst is people thinking they can ‘dip a toe in the water’ – as someone said to me recently – and get thousands of enquiries. He didn’t want us to do the planning, strategy, messaging or anything you actually need to do but wanted magic results.” – Ceri-Jane Hackling.
13. You Gotta Be A ‘PR Girl’
You can’t work in PR unless you’re in your 20s, pretty, confident, a serial drinker and a bit bitchy. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong. The ‘PR Girl’ stereotype is one of my WORST (mainly because it examples everything I’m not).
“How about the ‘PR girl’ stereotype? It probably even contributes to the persistent gender pay gap as it sets such low expectations for the role.” – Richard Bailey.
“So many people think it’s quite a ‘basic’ girl job – like people think all PRs (especially women) fit into a certain character type (rolling eyes)” – Jessica Fairfax.
14. We’re Journalists
This is the funniest yet I think.
“Someone once asked what I did when I said ‘PR’ they said ‘oh like a journalist but your name doesn’t make the cut’ ” – Rachael Milligan.
15. “You Work With Celebrities Then?”
Unfortunately, no. Celebrity PR is a thing – but it’s not what public relations is all about. I’ve only worked with one ‘famous’ person in my career to date.
“PR is about stunts, celebs and is all spin – it rarely involves the first two and works best when it isn’t the third.” – Rob Yeldham.
“”So, how many celebs do you know?” 🤦♀️– PR is not only about celebrities and parties. We don’t live in the ‘Sex and the City’.” – Yana Miladinova.
16. We’re All Drunkards
Actually, I’m not even a fan of prosecco.
“Lunches, parties and booze. It’s bull shit although we don’t help ourselves. It’s impossible to go to an evening event in PR without wine being served.” – Stephen Waddington.
“The perception that it’s all power suits and Prosecco when it’s really a strategic business function that promotes and protects corporate reputation while supporting the bottom line.” – Una Carlin.
17. Free Stuff
I got a T-Shirt once, that just about covers it.
“That I get a lot of free stuff. I definitely don’t!” – Liz Pusey.
18. It Doesn’t Work
You can’t guarantee anything, granted. But the misconception that PR simply doesn’t work, and that you’re better placing your money in advertising is wrong.
“My most annoying stereotype (because it’s true) is that many PR agents don’t get their clients results” – Dawn Carrington.
19. Just Ignore Us, It’s Fine
Something I do get is that journalists are super busy and absolutely cannot reply to every email we ever send to them. Something I do not get is when you liaise with a journalist (even better when they ask you for something) only for them to ignore you after you turn something around for them. It happens. It’s happened to me many a time before, and I have a sneaky feeling it won’t be the last time either.
“That journalists can be as rude as they like to PRs because we’re just irritating and ‘don’t get it’ when in fact we have a job to do, aren’t idiots and cannot (always) predict when a journalist will be in a bad mood/on deadline/not interested in a totally valid pitch.” – Sarah Wragg.
As I’m updating this in 2021, it’s sad to say that the PR bashing by journalists still takes place often. I wrote about it only recently here. Let’s stamp that out guys.
20. We’re Cold
Despite what some would have you believe, I spend approximately 0% of my time being deceitful. I have a conscience, and it’s never damaged at work. I’m not sure how we all got tarred with the same brush, when there should never have been a brush to begin with. But unfortunately, upon informing somebody that you work in Public Relations, some will automatically assume that you’re cold and without a soul.
“Oh, this is ace… that I must be some sort of hard bitch…” – Andrea Sexton.
21. It’s Just Another 9-5 Office Job
Even if when I leave the office at 5pm, my mind doesn’t. Being passionate about my job means I’m forever checking up on the news, thinking of ideas and spotting opportunities. Sometimes at ungodly hours. I’m a big advocate of having a decent work-life separation but when your job is a big part of your life, it’s hard not to give it a second thought once the clock strikes 5.
22. “That’s Not A Real Thing”
Oh and let’s end on a cracker, shall we? Robin Tracey argues that good PR should be invisible. That doesn’t mean we aren’t there though. Though PR isn’t as common as marketing and advertising, I can confirm that it is actually a profession. And a very valuable one at that.
“People saying “aaah, wonderful” when you telling them what you’re doing, and you can tell they have no idea what I’m actually doing…” – Irina.