Why there’s more to PR than media relations

Business leaders mistakenly think PR is only about making phone calls and landing segments on “The Today Show.” For the sake of your career, it’s time to set the record straight.

There has been a lot of talk about how to help business leaders understand that media relations is just a tactic.

A couple years ago, I received a call on Dec. 18 from a panicked prospect. He needed PR help and wanted to know if my agency would work with him. I asked him my typical questions to determine what he did, why he needed us and how we could help.

He became exasperated by the questioning and blurted out, “I have a product in Target that isn’t selling. They told me if it’s not off the shelves by Christmas, they won’t re-order from me. If they don’t re-order, I’m out of business.”

Remember, he called me on Dec. 18—one week before Christmas.

I don’t know how long he had this information, but he assumed that appearing on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” would solve all his problems.

He wanted to go on the show in the next couple of days. He said he would even fly to Chicago that evening if I could make it work. Never mind that the show was already on break and, by this point, Oprah was doing more celebrity interviews than giving away cars.

It was one week before Christmas!

I felt bad for the guy. I still do.

His product didn’t sell out at Target, and he went out of business. I’m sure there is a little part of him that blames me for not helping.

Media relations is just a tactic

We public relations professionals know we’re not miracle workers, but business leaders believe all we have to do is make a phone call and—voila!—they’re featured on the front page of The New York Times.

Four disheartening things have happened this week:

  1. A prospect asked for a list of media contacts while discussing his company’s business goals (because the other agency he’s talking to led with media contacts).
  2. A prospect said using PR to drive lead generation sets up the PR industry for liabilities if we can’t deliver.
  3. A request for proposal asked us to provide a weekly report correlating published results with impressions and earned media value.
  4. Another agency suggested a client should focus not on a PESO model, but on building website SEO by working on keywords in the footer. Yes, working on keywords in the footer. (Side note: I love when a client has a friend in PR, and the client runs my work past said friend who has no knowledge of our strategy or business goals.)

These four things begin with tactics, not a strategy.

It’s a big problem when business leaders, bosses, clients or prospects want us to lead with our media contacts and provide a weekly report that correlates published results with media impressions and advertising equivalencies.

Take the oath

The problem, unfortunately, doesn’t lie with business leaders. Our industry hasn’t taught them differently.

An agency that begins a business meeting by talking about media contacts, or a PR professional who states that media relations is PR contributes to the problem.

I threw a hissy fit a few weeks ago with a group of PR colleagues and said, “We have to agree that PR is more than media relations. If we can’t do that as an industry, there’s no way we can expect that of business leaders.”

There were some sheepish responses, but everyone agreed.

Readers, take this oath out loud in front of your screen (double points if you do it in the comments):

I, NAME, solemnly swear to begin working with business goals in mind. I will not refer to PR as media relations again. I will not start with the tactics again. I will begin every program with a strategy and use the tactics that make sense to help us achieve the organization’s goals. I will be OK if media relations isn’t even part of our plan. I promise to do everything I can to change business leaders’ perception of the PR industry by educating my fiefdom on an integrated PESO model and how we can implement it to drive results.

I promise that if I don’t know how to do that, I will ask my boss for professional development or I will provide it for myself. I will comment on Spin Sucks to get help. I will send an email to Gini to see if her team can help. I will take online courses and educate myself. Then, I will do my best to educate the powers that be, and together we will get that coveted seat at the table because business leaders will see us as strategic partners-not people who pick up the phone to call their journalist friends.

If you have to, print this and pin it where you can see it every day.

Slowly but surely, the bullet points I listed above will disappear because we, as an industry, will change the conversation and expectations.

A version of this article originally appeared on Spin Sucks.

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Topics: PR

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