Public relations is just schmoozing and spin, right?

Public relations is just schmoozing and spin, right?

Article originally appeared in the February 20, 2012 edition of the Northern Nevada Business Weekly.

Over the last year, public relations has had the dubious honor of being listed in the top 10 most stressful jobs in the U.S. In one report, it was listed as number two under firefighters, which really got me thinking, “Maybe I’m doing it wrong.” However, it’s almost guaranteed that when someone reads these rankings and sees public relations listed, they either question what they know or they laugh thinking, “how hard is it really to plan a party?”

The perception certainly exists that PR is all about throwing parties and schmoozing. What challenges public relations professionals most about the profession we’ve chosen is that it is constantly evolving.  To identify an excellent PR person look for the following traits to be demonstrated by these workhorses of the marketing world: adaptability, embracing new technology, thinking “big picture” and looking out for the best interests of those they represent.

Imagine working in a profession that no one really knows what you do? In fact, in a survey conducted by the New York chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), 92 percent believed that most people do not understand what public relations is. And no wonder, in a world where international relations is referred to as “PR” in newscasts or the word “spin” is bandied about when referring to politics or a celebrity miss-Tweet, it’s obvious there’s a credibility problem. So in an effort to showcase the why and how of public relations, here are 5 myths often overheard in the industry.

  1. PR is about cocktail parties and schmoozing. Now wouldn’t that be the life? When you do see PR people at these events, we often come haggard from a busy day at the office where there are 500 other things going on that need immediate attention. And if they had a hand in the event itself, they’ve spent hours, often weeks, beforehand making sure every detail is taken care of and more importantly anticipated.
  2. PR is about controlling the media. Far from it. If it was that easy, newspapers would be filled with fluff pieces like, “Conference Room Receives a Makeover with New Paint,” all with a “world is hunky-dory, no need to worry” outlook. It’s about news and relationships. If there’s news value, the media will be interested. If there’s a relationship, the media will start calling you instead of you stalking them.
  3. 3. PR is just like advertising. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Advertising is paid. Public relations is earned. And by earned, it means that feature article in the local paper or in a national magazine took time, sometimes months, to cultivate and place. Ideally, the two disciplines support each other and when strategically aligned add power to a marketing campaign. Public relations and its new shinny sister social marketing can help launch a campaign before the first ad ever hits.
  4. PR is just a press release. It’s so much more. Yes a press release serves a role often for Board of Directors, publicity traded companies and for your website. True success lies in strong newsworthy content and storytelling. The ability to tell a story that incorporates key messages and is targeted to the journalist, blogger or customer you are trying to reach. When specifically tailored, it’s a very powerful tool.
  5. PR is easy. True, it’s not brain surgery. It would be safer to say PR is simple, not necessarily easy. If it was that easy it wouldn’t be listed as a stressful job. The fact is public relations professionals think beyond the boxes of “the message” to who could be hearing a particular message, how the audience would respond, what’s really going to move the needle and what could happen. Personally, I’m thankful for the clients I’ve worked with that challenge and believe anything is possible. With that attitude, it is.

So if you know someone in this stressful world of public relations, tell them you now have a better understanding of what they do. Maybe even give them a hug or better yet get them some caffeine or buy them a beer…after all they may just need it.

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