3 Stereotypes That PR People Just Can’t Shake

Guest post by Colin Jordan of Egnyte.

This is a guest post by Colin Jordan, senior manager of corporate communications at enterprise software company Egnyte.

You’re different. You’re not one of those “typical PR people.” You want a fair shot with the media, but you just can’t seem to break through the stereotypes!

Trust me, you are not alone…

When I started working in PR it was an uphill battle to meet journalists and make quality connections. It resembled a West Side Story-style scenario where journalists and PR were protective of their own side and didn’t want to let an outsider “in.” But why?

According to the US department of labor, PR professionals outnumber journalists by a ratio of 4.6 to 1. Putting that into perspective, I realized that this uneven equation created an unhealthy dynamic between journalists and PR. One can easily imagine how journalists get overwhelmed, annoyed, or downright hostile with so many reps actively contacting them regularly. Rather than bending over backwards to give each and every person their five minutes, such targets often create easily understandable stereotypes to categorize the prime offenders.

These cliches are often highlighted and shared on a daily basis via social media; Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Secret, Medium, you name it. Based on my own experience, there are three stereotypes journalists have created that we just can’t seem to shake.

1. We Are Stupid

Some journalists have prestigious degrees from places like NYU, the University of Chicago, or Harvard, while others dropped out of college and have been writing ever since. To each his/her own and much respect for however one arrived at one’s current position.

Yet some think that journalists often treat us as if we never progressed beyond the 4th grade. I was not my class valedictorian, and I have not written any Pulitzer prize-winning exposes (yet), but I still have plenty to offer in the way of intelligent thoughts.

This goes beyond baseline education as well. Typically, as PR professionals, we are well-educated in our own industry. We may not know the ins and outs of JavaScript and we may not have mastered Ruby on Rails just yet, but we still have a wealth of knowledge in our specialized areas. We are able to have meaningful conversations, otherwise we would not be in our current positions…so at least give us a chance to make some valid points.

2. We Are “Thirsty”

The word thirsty has taken on a new meaning in the world of PR. It is now used by journos to describe PR professionals who need coverage and will do anything to get it…so they are “thirsty” for placements.

After an initial chuckle, I realized that this really is a much bigger problem than we think. Journalists today are so conditioned to think that every piece of communication that comes from a PR person has some kind of motive or business objective attached to it. In their eyes, every tweet, post, comment or even quick “hey, how’ve you been?” email is going to end with an attempt to get a story published.

But we are all people who have lives outside of work. We have hobbies and passions just like people who publish things for a living, and we would probably enjoy having a drink or two to have conversations about those things that are NOT work. Sometimes we are actually thirsty, not “thirsty.”

3. We Are All the Same

The last stereotype that is so hard to break is the old “All you PR people are the same!” canard. I have met my fair share of PR people, and I can assure you that the only thing most of us have in common is our profession.

Of course it can be easy to open an email and make your snap judgment based off of a <200 word note, but how much does that really tell you about a person and what they have to offer? Some PRs are strong writers able to submit excellent contributed content, some have great story ideas, and some have just the connection you need to finalize a story. Beyond work, maybe a given PR person has something to offer you personally. In short, no two PR people are exactly alike: and all it takes is one good interaction to demonstrate that.

Shaking the Stereotypes

Working on either end of the media spectrum is a tough job that’s not for the faint of heart. In order to overcome these stereotypes and improve the value our industry, both sides of the coin will need to come to some realizations.

To Journalists: While there are times where PR people can be annoying and get on your last nerve, we usually have good intentions. Remember that we also face deadlines, KPIs, and impatient managers, all of which sometimes forces us to lose sight of the reason we are in this profession in the first place–our passion for working with people.

To PR Professionals: Understand where journalists are coming from and the amount of pressure they face from our industry (not to mention their own) on a daily basis. Being prepared, being considerate, being reliable, providing value, and communicating efficiently are the least we can do. If we can maintain those standards for ourselves, we will help facilitate a better perception of our industry and potentially help bridge the gap between the two parties.