Who has heard this line before: “All I know about PR is that most of the people who do it are pretty dumb.”
I, for one, have had that insult hurled at me on several occasions, which means I’ve mastered the ability to mutter, “Your face is dumb,” into a cocktail straw before strolling off in search of better company.
Sadly, that slight doesn’t even crack the top five list of misconceptions I hear about working in public relations. Here I’ll count them down and debunk them once and for all:
Myth 1: “PR people are liars.”
Several years ago, as my employer welcomed a new crop of interns, the young woman assigned to our group asked me a serious question: “Am I going to have to lie a lot?”
I was horrified. Not only did she think our company was run by a bunch of moral degenerates, but she had accepted the position anyway.
Every industry has its fair share of cons, and PR is no exception. The vast majority of professionals in our field know that being dishonest will get them nowhere.
Our success depends in large part on forming and keeping strong relationships with everyone from reporters and editors to clients and colleagues. If your relationships aren’t built on trust, then they won’t last long—and neither will you.
Myth 2: “There’s no money in PR.”
When I took my first agency job in New York, an acquaintance was quick to point out that he made twice as much money at his job delivering potato chips.
It was a humbling experience—one made worse when I willingly accepted several bags of nearly expired snacks from the back of his truck while half-heartedly outlining my five-year career plan.
Thankfully, PR is an industry with plenty of opportunity for advancement and high earning potential for anyone willing to put in the time and effort.
My salary has certainly increased over the past decade—so much so that whenever I walk by a Frito-Lay truck, I always peek inside and hope to recognize the driver. I have an exciting update for him, and I’ll never say no to a free bag of chips.
Myth 3: “PR isn’t hard; anyone can do it.”
Sure, anyone can learn the basics of PR. Just like anyone can learn how to juggle—or operate a bulldozer. Both of which would probably come in handy in our line of work.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that PR is a cushy career, though. Making it in this field requires a distinct professional skill set, an outgoing personality and a tireless work ethic.
If you find working in this industry easy, you’re probably not going hard enough.
Myth 4: “Working in PR is one giant party.”
I do my best work while holding a cocktail.
It’s true: My most valuable contributions are made not at my desk, but at events, conferences and lunch meetings. That’s where I meet reporters, find out what they’re working on and attempt to place my clients in their stories.
That these activities take place over drinks at a bar or in a hotel ballroom doesn’t make them any less important, and I have no problem combining sipping and pitching.
Myth 5: “PR has no business value.”
Years ago, a co-worker did the impossible: She placed a raincoat on Oprah’s spring fashion episode. The jacket was absolutely hideous, but that didn’t stop it from selling out in a matter of hours, which prompted me to coin the term raincoating—meaning to exceed client expectations and safeguard against budget cuts.
Of course, PR goes well beyond simple product placement. Company features and executive profiles can generate new business leads, build credibility in the market and raise the profile of the organization. Our efforts might not boost the bottom line every time, but there’s still value in the results.
So what’s the reason for these myths? My best guess is that most people simply don’t understand what PR is, which makes it easy to underestimate the people who work in the field.
Perhaps it’s time for us to do what we do best and launch a campaign to address these misconceptions and others like them. For my part, I’ll also try to stop muttering comebacks into my drink.
I make no promises, though, because then I really would be lying.
Nova Halliwell is a public relations professional living in New York City. You can follow her at www.adviceicouldhaveusedyesterday.com and @adviceineeded. A version of this post first appeared on Cision.