Now that we have a definition (sort of) from PRSA, there's an official description of what we do. But there are still so many misconceptions about PR -- what it is, what we do and how we do it, and even things we can't (or shouldn't) do. I sometimes hear these misconceptions when speaking with new or prospective clients.
"Who do you know in the media, so you can get me coverage?"
"I know we've done something bad, but how can you 'spin it' so it looks good?"
"I have a great new widget. Throw me a fancy press party so it'll get covered."
.... and so on.
Ragan's PR Daily had a story yesterday titled ‘PR is all about party planning’—and other misconceptions. It's worth a quick read, even though it's a bit shallow.
One of the misconceptions it points out is the idea that all we do is throw great parties and mix with celebrities. If you work in entertainment PR, that may be partly accurate, although it doesn't give you the downside. A good friend of mine was one of the top entertainment publicists out in Hollywood. She got to meet celebs, but at what price? She hated working the red carpets because of the intense pressure. And many (not all) celebs treat PR people like dirt -- "get me this" and "I want that- NOW!" They're not your pals and they probably don't even know your name.
Another misconception is that we "spin" the news. I hate that word spin. A good PR person doesn't spin, but instead tries to present information accurately from the client's perspective. We shouldn't lie, omit or cover up. If we do, the media is likely to find out and then we lose whatever credibility we may have had. PR people in politics talk about spin all the time, and just look at how much we trust politicians. TV shows like "Scandal" on ABC, as entertaining as they may be, don't do justice to how PR people really work.
The PR Daily piece quotes Matt Ragas, an assistant professor in the college of communication at DePaul University, who says many of his students hold misconceptions about the PR field, but from an outsider’s perspective it makes sense.
“Party planning and working with celebrities and the media seems exciting and fast-paced,” he said. “Do you really want to get into a field that is boring and staid?”
Students in his courses quickly grasp the reality of the profession. He helps them realize, for example, that party planning is just one tactic in the PR professional’s arsenal (one that requires lots of work, said Ragas).
“Students are generally open-minded about the possibilities and excited to learn out the depth and breadth of the field beyond what they see on TV,” he added. And he says they shouldn’t get bored with the profession. “Public relations has grown so specialized that I tell students there is likely a [niche] that matches their interest and passions with their communication skill set and training.”
For years, I've been calling for a "PR for PR" campaign, which should be organized and implemented by the trade association that represents us - the PRSA. As experts in communications and opinion-building, we should be able to inform the public -- and especially marketers, corporate and organization leaders, and young people looking to enter the PR field -- what Public Relations is, how it works, and -- just as importantly -- what it doesn't or can't or shouldn't do.
Unfortunately, I doubt PRSA will take on this challenge, since it hasn't been a particularly useful group for many years. But I would love to be proven wrong. Until then, it's up to those of us in the field to try to patiently explain away the misconceptions.