You Think You Know PR? Think Again.

“What do you think public relations is?”

“Isn’t it like Samantha Jones from Sex and the City… like all party planning?” – Roommate number 1

Photo Courtesy of z_yina on Flickr

“Well, I watch that show on E! called “SPINdustry.” That’s with a real PR agency. All they do is events and manage celebrities.” – Roommate number 2

“The first thing I think of when I think of a PR practitioner is a person who manages the relationship between a company and its publics. Kind of like wearing lots of different hats, communicating the image the company wants, communicating with its publics, crisis management, all of that stuff.” – Roommate number 3 who is attending the University of Oregon’s Lundquist School of Business

“Whenever I think of PR, I think of that guy from ‘Thank You For Smoking’ – It seems like it’s all about portraying what the company wants you to portray it as, even if that includes lying… a lot.” – Roommate number 4

Well, at least one of my four roommates kind of knows the answer. Better than I expected: I figured they would all buy into media portrayals of public relations. Lucky for me, I live with someone in the School of Business. Anyway, public relations images perforate the majority of the media we consume, generally displaying PR in a negative light or as something it is not. With all of these myths about public relations spreading like wildfire, which ones are true and which ones are false?

1.  Public relations practitioners are just party planners.

FALSE. While this would make the public relations profession much sexier and more fun, this myth is indeed false. Event planning is only a small portion of what a public relations practitioner does, with “party planning” being an even smaller portion. More prominent areas of public relations include: media relations, social media management, community relations and crisis management. The character, Samantha Jones, from “Sex and the City” is most definitely the exception, not the rule.

2. Public relations practitioners are “spin doctors.”

FALSE. Movies like “Thank You For Smoking” would have you believe that the primary role of a PR practitioner is to lie to its company’s publics. This is incredibly far from the truth. Public relations is an ethical practice. With its two main professional organizations, Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA), enforcing Codes of Ethics on all of its members, very few PR professionals attempt to put “spin” on their work.  Furthermore, public relations practitioners are held accountable when false information is leaked to the press. If your job was potentially on the line, would you lie? I assume the answer is a resounding “no.”

3. Anyone can do public relations.

FALSE. I have heard the words, “Well, I will do my own PR,” muttered far too many times on television programs. Public relations requires a specific skill-set from its practitioners, including but not limited to: strong writing skills, strategic thinking, the ability to persuade, excellent communication skills, the ability to build relationships, the ability to target all relevant stakeholders to an organization and target each with the correct media platform, and many, many more. Not everyone has these capabilities. While you do not necessarily have to study public relations in school to be a PR practitioner, you must have all of these skills and then some to be successful in the industry.

4. Public Relations is all about catering to celebrities.

FALSE. This is called being a publicist, not a public relations professional. The main responsibility for a publicist is to get positive media coverage for his or her client, who is generally a celebrity. A public relations professional communicates with the public on behalf of companies, organizations or governments, relaying messages from the organization to the organization’s publics usually using the media as a conduit. While shows like “Spindustry” and “Entourage” would have you believe PR is all about celebrities, 99% has nothing to do with them.

What are misconceptions you regularly hear about public relations? Did I miss any major ones?

If you want to hear a podcast I created on this topic, head on over to PROpenMic! My Strategic Public Relations Communications class has taken over for the week, and I know all of us would love your feedback on our posts.


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