I wrote this post way back in 2015 before I moved to my current role. Part homage to the industry where I learnt my trade, part vow to retain the belief I had in the credibility of an industry that gets a bad rap from marketers. I’ve kept the language exactly as written two years ago…
PR is Giving Pubic Relations a Bad Name
Ask the man in the street and they jump to the only references they can, “Max Clifford?” Yep, that’s bad PR alright. “A New Labour Spin doctor?” Yep that’s a bad rep. It’s like Nazi propaganda, right? (A genuine response!) Definitely not the simile we want.
Patsy’s Ab Fab? Enough said.
All of the above are, to a greater or lesser extent, fair perceptions built on various aspects of the PR industry. But that’s ok; it doesn’t mean we all have a problem.
Despite being in this industry over a decade, my mum (or mom for translation purposes) still has no idea what I do. She knows I’m not a journalist, but I do write news and stuff for magazines. She is still shocked with the revelation that quotes are not necessarily always spoken verbatim and that my name doesn’t get a mention when the words are my own.
In the B2B world that I occupy, real PR (expanded) is about communication, shaping positive perceptions and building relationships with your public, whomever that public maybe.
My mum is not that public. Neither is the man on the street.
It may jolt my ego that a minority assume I’m a bit of a luvvy or an old school spin-doctor, but that’s something I can deal with. Their perceptions aren’t the ones that count. Not professionally anyway.
Estate agents (AKA real estate brokers) must get it all the time, except the difference is that those with poor perceptions of them ARE their audience.
They need better relations with their public. But do we?
Whilst it’s a lovely headline and all, I’m not convinced PR has a hugely accelerating, negative PR problem. Not in the B2B world at least. I do think, however, we may have an acronym problem with some of our audiences.
PR the Verb, the Noun, the Pain
There’s those in sales, ops or other departments that have come across Public Relations at the office. God forbid they may have even fallen into being responsible for it. They think PR stands for press release. Well, it doesn’t.
Worse still are those that think it is a verb; we should PR that. No we shouldn’t.
And then there’s a handful of journalists out there who relish in their status as PR-haters. As in “I hate it when PRs do that”, suggesting I am a PR. Well, no I’m not.
In my mind, the ubiquity of the abbreviation has had the effect of simplifying and belittling the intrinsic value of Public Relations. Public Relations is not media relations, it’s not writing press releases, nor is it social and digital marketing. Sure it can incorporate those tactics, but it’s more than that.
And more people would “get it” if its real value and meaning was easily accessible and articulated in a way that made it easily understood. Instead of hiding behind the abbreviation and the assumption that everyone intrinsically knows its meaning. They don’t. And that’s a perception we can shape.
I started out as Junior Public Relations Executive over 10 years ago, and whilst Public Relations has changed – expanded – as a discipline over that time, I would say the majority of clients I’ve worked with over the years expanded their understanding of its value too.
There are always exceptions, and there’s always work that can be done to shape the understanding of what we do, with the people that matter. But surely that should be viewed as an opportunity, not a problem.
With a decade focussed on B2B clients in an agency environment, I’m about to head to the dark-side, and go in-house.
It’s a marketing role in all its aspects; Public Relations will undoubtedly form a part of it. It’ll certainly be different, and I’m really excited about getting stuck into a new challenge, but I also feel a weight of responsibility to my purist roots.
So here it is: I vow never to be that marketing person, that client, that mis-uses our abbreviation. I vow never to utter the words “let’s PR that”. And I will continue to talk to anyone who will listen, that is relevant and needs to hear it, about what Public Relations really means, why that matters, and why it can make a difference.