Debunking 8 PR myths

Public Relations (PR) is an often misunderstood field. Those unfamiliar with the industry, and even PR professionals themselves, can sometimes get the wrong impression about what the work involves, and what effective PR strategy looks like.

Below, we have busted some of the most common PR myths to give you a better understanding of how it can help you and your business:

Myth 1: “PR is about brand awareness”

In marketing, the term “brand awareness” is thrown around a lot.

On the surface, brand awareness is about how many people know about your brand. But what does that really mean? Which people? Is “brand awareness” a relative metric compared to competitors, or is it an absolute metric? How do you determine their awareness? What even qualifies as “awareness”? And what does it mean for your sales pipeline?

In our experience, “brand awareness” only scratches the surface of what successful PR campaigns can achieve.  

Myth 2: “PR can’t be measured”

PR is often regarded by business leaders and PR professionals themselves as a vague activity which can’t be quantified. Before the internet, this may well have been the case. However, nowadays, there’s a whole host of PR metrics available that can accurately indicate PR success.

With the right data, the basic outputs of PR – reputation, engagement and reach – can all now be tracked and reported upon. The most important metric of all, ROI, can also be calculated and shared with the C-Suite.

Myth 3: “Paid for PR is the same as organic PR”

The rise of ‘sponsored content’ is an interesting phenomenon. Advertorial pieces certainly have their place in a wider marketing strategy, but it’s important to understand the difference in value between paid media and earned media.

For one thing, consumers have very different perceptions of organic PR versus PR which has been secured from the company’s pockets. Not unreasonably, audiences tend to have questions about the reliability of the latter. If written or video content has been purchased – and if this is declared to audiences (which legally it must be) – then audiences tend to be sceptical about the claims made in that content.

By contrast, PR messages that are communicated organically through a trusted third party are perceived as much more credible. All else being equal, this makes organic coverage, generally speaking, much more powerful than sponsored coverage. 

Myth 4: “There is no such thing as bad publicity” 

We have the 19th Century American showman and circus owner, Phineas T. Barnum, to thank for the infamous phrase “there is no such thing as bad publicity.” Though the saying has stood the test of time, it’s hardly a sensible approach to public relations as we know it today.

A company’s reputation can take a long time to build, yet it just takes one mistake to destroy it. You only need to look at recent PR failures like the United Airlines passenger incident or the Sony hacking scandal to understand that bad PR can do real damage to organisation that hits their bottom line.

 Myth 5: “PR professionals get coverage because of their contacts”

There’s often an assumption that experienced PR professionals walk around with little black books of phone numbers of friendly journalists. There’s a belief that, by having a quick word with these journalists and leveraging those relationships, journalists will drop their plans for the day to write about a client.

While PR professionals would love for this to be true, the reality is rather different. PR has never really worked this way, and it doesn’t work this way today.

Good PR professionals of course still develop connections with key journalists. But journalists are journalists. Good relationships between journalists and PR professionals can result in more coverage, but relationships alone won't achieve results.

A bad press release or a sloppy pitch won’t fly with an editor – no matter how good the relationship is between the two parties. A successful PR professional understands this, and understands the huge amount of planning and research that’s needed behind the scenes to make a compelling story.

Myth 6: “PR professionals are paid to party”

In much the same way as the estate agent, the car salesman, and the paparazzi, the reputation of the PR professional precedes us. Often, that reputation is about ‘partying’ and ‘schmoozing’. It’s a stereotype that undoubtedly has its origins in the early 90s, when highly entertaining eccentrics such as Edina Monsoon and Samantha Jones graced TV screens.

That image has thankfully faded over the last decade – but the industry hasn’t shrugged off the reputation altogether. Many now understand PR’s prevalence in the communications industry, and anyone who works in PR will confirm that it isn’t all glitz, gaudiness and glamour.

Myth 7: “PR is only needed to recover from a PR disaster”

If PR activity begins during difficult times, it’s unlikely to be effective. Brands need to constantly tell their stories; if they don’t, they’ll fade from the minds of buyers.

While well-organised PR campaigns can have more of an immediate impact, public relations as a whole is an ongoing process – an always-on activity. Building a brand takes time, effort and dedication. 

Myth 8: “I can do it myself”

PR activity is more complex than it often appears from the outside. Developing strategy and key messages for businesses, generating pitches, developing impactful news stories, identifying audiences, building relationships, and accurately reporting on results, are just the basic elements of PR.

For small and medium-sized businesses, it may seem tempting to go it alone or push the workload onto an individual working in a marketing capacity. However, PR is a full-time job, and it pays to have someone who knows what they are doing. As I’ve outlined above, PR is about so much more than fluffy “brand awareness”, and businesses not utilising it in their marketing outreach are failing to reach a whole market of potential prospects.

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