From agency to agency, professional to professional, definitions of this glorious industry differ almost daily. If you ask people to define PR, the answers you get will be more all-over-the-place than those submitted in response to you “is reality TV scripted?” survey.
So people disagree about what PR is. But the more important query to remember during these days of evolution may concern “What PR is NOT.”
After the visions of sugar plums and jolly fat men fade from your head, 2015 may be the time to definitively answer the big question — but we have to start with a negative.
Hopefully, this week’s edition of “5 Things” can be a small gift for those who struggle to define what their business does. Here, then, are five classifications that definitely don’t apply to the communications industry.
1. Free content for journalists. As absurd as it is to hear, there are some PR people who believe that if it weren’t for their press releases, the media would not be able to find stories. MEMO to you folks: Your release and subsequent pitch is a bonus. If you understand that we need them more than they need us, you will ensure each pitch you send is newsworthy, each client you have understands how to share a story, and every time you call someone in the media, it will be to better understand their needs and how to answer them…not the other way around.
2. Spin. What she said. Every time I hear the word “spin” or “spindustry” as a means of describing PR, I cringe. PR is certainly not a profession of “spinners,” and to believe that we are all “spinners” is selling yourself and your colleagues short. End of story. We should demand more from our colleagues. We should insist on ethics being visible at all times rather than something the PRSA celebrates once a year. Spin is what a defense attorney does to get you dizzy with facts and not see what may have really happened. We are storytellers — if you are hiding anything, you’re in the wrong line of work.
3. Guaranteed coverage. A good sign of a bad client is when you apparently pitched something, it doesn’t take, and the client calls the media personally to explain why it should be news. There are no guarantees in PR. And with an obligatory “all due respect” nod, just because the CEO says the new widget or award is newsworthy doesn’t make it so. Even if you have an interested reporter calling for details, if there is a big wreck on the highway, guess which story is usually getting bounced? Yours. The only “guaranteed” coverage is the coverage that actually is broadcast or published. Everything else is bathed in hoping, begging, and praying against bad traffic.
4. Easy. I heart all my peeps in the media. I love them even more when they regretfully take the buyout and decide working in PR would be an easy gig to make ends meet. Why? The look on their faces at lunch when they answer the question, “So, not all it was cracked up to be, huh?” There’s so, so much more to PR than just getting people on TV, mom! There’s public affairs, writing, perception management, CSR, grassroots outreach, social media, and SO MUCH account management. “This is easy” is one of the biggest misunderstandings surrounding any (and every) industry.
5. One size fits all. It’s like that guy wearing spandex when he should know better: no, honey. Just, no. The evolving definition of the industry should tell you that. Do we help sell, market, and advertise? Do we manage social media and traditional media? Do we make websites? No, sometimes, and if you’re feeling froggy — jump. It all depends on the needs of the client and the media as well as that general catch-all, “relationships.” When someone asks “how’s that working out for you?”, it doesn’t matter if “that’s how it worked last year.”
PR is strategic: the landscape shifts like an Etch-a-Sketch and it’s up to us to decipher the mess.
It can be a lot of fun, too — if you start by noting what this industry is not.