5 common misconceptions about public relations

Myths about PR—its practice and its practitioners—abound. Here’s a reality check, along with guidance about how to proceed and missteps to avoid.

PR facts and myths

PR remains shrouded in myth.

Even in professional circles, debates rage about the objectives of PR, how measurable the results are and what competencies PR agents need. Let’s dispel five stubborn myths about public relations:

Myth No. 1: PR can do anything.

If you look good and talk smoothly, any media outlet will open its doors to you, right? This is a dangerous misconception, which can lead not just to failing to achieve what you planned, but also to seriously damaging your company’s reputation by using amateurs. Another manifestation of this attitude is thinking that you can delegate PR to your secretary for a couple of hours per day or take care of it yourself in your free time.

Don’ts: Don’t start working with the first candidate or contractor who wears a lovely suit and talks pretty about their accomplishments. Don’t choose based on price alone. Don’t try to shove PR duties on those who have never done PR before.

Do’s: Carefully select your staff and contractors. Verify whether details listed on a résumé or mentioned in a meeting match reality. Ask for examples of real projects and reviews. Verify them. Consult with your potential candidates’ and contractors’ existing clients or employers. Study their social media and blogs: If all they have is photos of themselves and not a single word on professional topics, think twice before partnering with them. PR is a public profession, which means that those who are serious about it understand that they are on display and make every effort not just to present themselves in the best possible way publicly, but also to make themselves a telling example of PR’s potential.

Myth No. 2. It’s enough to make it pretty.

PR can’t just put a bow on something and make it good. It doesn’t create an alternative universe where everything is great and everyone is happy. PR can’t achieve everything in sales and promotion by itself. It’s not a screen that can cover everything up, making it possible to sell a subpar product. The goals of PR are to enter into a conversation with your target audience, create an information field, and form a reputation. Yet if the company has serious internal problems, PR alone won’t help.

Don’ts: Don’t assume that you won’t have to work on your product or project once you have PR. Don’t lie to your audience. Of course, no one is asking you to divulge trade secrets and lay everything out on the table. Still, blatant falsehood has never helped anyone. A competent PR pro knows how to present a given story and how to handle tricky reputational situations.

Do’s: Think through ahead of time what can be discussed publicly and what should not be. Have a clear understanding of what problematic questions could come from journalists or customers. Constantly review your reputation, the tone in publications and your audience’s mood. Choose in-house experts who will help improve the company’s reputation rather than damaging it. Sync up the objectives of PR and other promotional tools.

Myth No. 3. Uniqueness Is everything.

If company wants only to say how unique and innovative it is, it shouldn’t hold its breath for any media publications or interest from its audience. There are millions of unique companies, and media outlets are not lining up to write about every one of them. It’s not enough to think of yourself as the best of the best—you have to know how to show it. Opening another branch or launching your product’s tenth version might be a significant event for a company, but it’s not interesting to media outlets or their readers.

Don’ts: Don’t try to send off dozens of press releases to news outlets without understanding whether the story is significant. Don’t use “unique” or “innovative” (or others from the list of empty adjectives).

Do’s: Be ready to present facts and figures. Communicate with media outlets to find out how you can be helpful. Use various methods for interacting with target audiences and outlets: comments, columns, social media, events, etc.

Myth No. 4. PR fosters traffic, leads and sales.

Public relations does not make sales, bring traffic to your site nor generate direct leads. You have to accept that, or your approach will get you neither clients nor benefits from PR. The effect of PR is not instantaneous: A publication, even in the most popular of outlets, does not make customers rush to their phones to place orders (although that does happen). PR is about trust, about another point of contact with customers, about placing one more brick in a solid foundation for the company’s reputation.

Another version of this myth is that PR is not measurable if it doesn’t generate traffic, leads or sales—but that’s not true. PR has sufficient statistics to directly or indirectly represent the performance and effectiveness of measures taken. When you start any PR campaign, you must clearly define what (and how) you will measure and what your success criteria are, and you have to analyze your results.

Don’ts: Don’t set goals that the PR toolkit cannot achieve. Don’t leave PR campaigns without guidance.

Do’s: If you need leads, buy leads instead of conducting PR. Formulate and follow a PR strategy. Clearly define your PR indicators, and measure them. Adjust your strategy based on the results.

Myth No. 5. Hype drives progress.

Using trendy topics to promote yourself is good for placement in broadly read publications and securing the attention of potential clients. However, you should be very careful when choosing these topics, with an understanding of what the company will gain from being associated with “controversial” material, how useful it will be to use fresh (or not-so-fresh) memes in posts, and how the reputation of a celebrity chosen for a partnership might reflect on the company’s reputation. Sure, scandalous stories and personalities “penetrate” an audience better, but will you really need the association with an outdated topic once the interest fades away?

Don’ts: Don’t get involved in questionable topics and news stories before analyzing how they fit into your strategy and positioning.

Do’s: Define how your company wants to position itself. This will help outline the list of appropriate and inappropriate topics, personalities and stories. Clearly define who is responsible for company PR and public presentation. Get all your outward-facing activities in sync.

Valentina Drofa is CEO of Drofa Communications Agency.

Topics: PR


One Response to “5 common misconceptions about public relations”

    Rajneesh Sharma says:

    Nice informative piece to read on. Keep sharing info on PR
    Thanks and regards
    Dr Rajneesh Sharma
    PhD in Public Relations

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