Top 10 Misconceptions about PR

The Public Relations Society of America defines PR as the “strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

Our good friend Wikipedia defines it as “the practice of managing the flow of information between an individual or an organization and the public.” The Princeton Review tells us it’s about generating positive publicity for a client enhancing their reputation.

No matter how you define it, PR can play a vital role in the success of your company. From creating a positive image, to reaching out to influencers within the industry or media, PR can shape how both internal and external stakeholders view your institution.

It’s clear PR is a multi-faceted business discipline, however, it’s also clear that there are many misconceptions about PR—even among PR professionals. It’s these misconceptions that can offer the most valuable lessons and help drive business goals.

Following is a top-ten list of PR misconceptions that may be holding back your success:

  1. It’s not just sending out a press release.  Yes, press releases are a standard tool in the PR professional’s toolbox. But writing them, sending them, and moving on to the next one isn’t a very successful strategy. And it isn’t managing information — it’s throwing paper into the wind and hoping someone will catch it. Successful PR professionals develop mutually respectful, open relationships with people in the media. They communicate clearly about newsworthy events, and they work to ensure that there is no perception of “smoke-and-mirrors” marketing. They come up with ways to promote the business that go beyond standard product announcements and generate useful material that shows they know the market, the clients, and the industry. And they do it proactively.

  2. It’s not just having a PR manager on staff. Assuming that a staff member will be able to magically manage communications well can be dangerous. Depending on the nature and size of the business, a whole dedicated department or subcontracted PR agency might be called for. Different subject-matter experts from within the organization might be designated as spokespeople for the topics they specialize in. However the PR solution is structured, the people involved must be integrated into strategic business discussions and there must be a cohesive overarching message. It isn’t something you play by ear.

  3. It’s not about “getting on Oprah”. While Oprah’s Q factor is off the charts, it isn’t about getting one person or one outlet to endorse your company. It’s not about posting an accolade on your website. It’s about connecting with your audience. One piece of validation, no matter how huge, can’t be the sole focus of a PR effort. Public relations isn’t getting someone famous to proclaim how great you are — it’s about relating to the public, connecting to the individual people who make decisions about which service provider to trust.

  4. It’s not ignoring a complaint or potentially negative situation. If something negative happens — a complaint, an incident — then it happens. You can’t make it go away by ignoring it. When a customer has an issue and the company tries to minimize or spin it, doesn’t respond to the customer’s need, or displays insensitivity, that customer’s unhappiness will multiply exponentially, and so will the customer’s enthusiasm for spreading negative messages. Word of mouth — especially warnings — are powerful stuff, and by failing to recognize and address problems, frankly, you’re making it more likely that people won’t trust your brand. In today’s hyper social media world, a negative complaint can spread like wildfire across various online channels.  We’ve all seen or heard of these horror stories for companies. We live in a different world now with the Internet and technology advancements, which means there is no room to discount someone’s complaints.  Respond to them immediately and keep in mind the phrase “the customer is always right” still rings true today.

  5. It’s not an ad hoc tactic. Planning is essential for PR strategies in order to stay in the news.  In simplest terms, planning is figuring out the best way to accomplish whatever you want to do or to get where you want to be.  It is surprising to us how often we come across companies who feel PR doesn’t need a plan.  That PR is something that unfolds on its own.  This is a good way to dive straight into crisis mode.  We cannot stress enough how important it is to set goals that support the positioning and key messages of your company.

  6. It’s not something you should do on your own. Perhaps you are media-savvy, tech-savvy, supremely organized, and fantastically detail-oriented, with a network of contacts that could rival a Washington lobbyist’s. Not everyone has that fortune. For this reason, we recommend that businesses hire people whose entire focus is on cultivating and maintaining media relationships, publishing matter where it’s going to be most effective, and all the other tasks that make up a good PR strategy.

  7. It’s not about how great you are.  Advertising is more about telling everyone how great you are. PR is getting others to tell everyone how great you are. In order to make this happen, you need to appeal to customer needs.  PR should be focused on building credibility via voices outside of your company.  More often than not, advertising and PR are not only thrown into the same bucket but they are addressed via the same tactics and this is a big no-no. It is important to separate the two and to understand their differences.

  8. It’s not only about the “hard new.” You have to go beyond standard announcements about new products, new executive hires, new partnerships and collaborations.  You have to go that extra mile and comment publicly on important industry developments and trends to position your news in a way that leads the consumer to believe that you are the experts, that your product is the best or whatever it is you are trying convey. Remember, the intention of PR professionals is to influence public opinion.  PR professionals are not the same as journalists, yes, we get news information out but our news needs to be more specialized to get to the core of our target audience.

  9. It’s not about superlatives. Are you really the greatest, largest, fastest, etc.? Does anyone care? It is very important to watch your claims. News releases and pitches that are filled with jargon and outlandish claims have a good chance of not getting picked up.  It is best to use plain English to describe your product or service.  Editors appreciate this approach and are more likely to use your release when it is written in a straightforward fashion. By constantly hyping your product with superlatives and hard-to-verify claims, you may actually foster doubt in people who really want you to relate to them in a more responsive way.

  10. It’s not about being reactive. You must be proactive to control the messaging, impact of situation and brand reputation. Sitting there waiting for opportunity leads to results here and there but not necessarily in a way that steadily contributes to a larger marketing funnel for a brand. You have to come up with ways to promote the business that go beyond standard product announcements and generate useful material that shows they know the market, the clients, and the industry.

Public Relations can play a critical part in your business’s success. To buy into the misconceptions of PR is to deprive your company of a strategic opportunity to drive business results by increasing visibility, credibility and thought-leadership. We are finding that too many companies are missing the ball on this one when really they can make small tweaks, most likely improving on our list above, and can really hit a home run with PR.

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