All right, PR peeps. You have a mission in 2014: Debunk these top five PR myths.
Unfortunately, there are many more than five, but in this industry, it’s all about billable time. A couple of these myths are unwritten rules in PR — many of which are subjective sources of angst. They are inescapable in this industry, but they are things we live with and endure. Other myths have been proven to be sources of headaches, sore thumbs and the ubiquitous pain-in-the-ass.
There are misconceptions in this industry that regretfully, our clients believe as fact even though they can’t be proven. There are stereotypes that cannot be shattered in this industry because of the inexperienced neophytes that insist they need to act as a PR director without learning what an intern does. Nonetheless, here are the Top 5 we have concluded and require your help.
Make sense? On with the show…
1. Having a Good Relationship with Someone in the Media = Guaranteed Ink. Oh, hell-to-the-no! I figure we will start out with good soapbox material. This is a real shame in PR, and one that continues to rear its ugly head. Regardless of the client, unless expectations are managed immediately, the assumption usually begins as, “Whelp, that’s your friend, right? Then why wouldn’t your friend talk five minutes in the 10 o’clock news about this new hamburger I concocted?” You want to tell your client that your hamburger isn’t newsworthy, but you have to do that at your own peril.
I always say to people I mentor, train or even know in PR, “this ain’t show friends; it’s show business.” (And no, Jerry Maguire didn’t patent that line.) If I have a friend in TV, I have to respect what my friend does as a professional in order to maintain that friendship. If I abuse that friendship by pitching crap and trying to call in favors, guess who won’t be returning my calls any longer? Clients need to understand that in the initial pitch meeting, not when you are in the middle of quarterly reviews. Your network builds with credible pitches. The better the network, the more opportunity your clients will be afforded. In short, learning to tell your client “no” in the beginning could mean the media will tell you “yes” later.
2. It’s All in the Press Release. Read my
lips, well … words: Press releases are nothing more than tools to build your client’s image. It would be comical how some clients drone on and on and on over what becomes a five-page press release if it weren’t so sad. The work that goes into some press releases just isn’t worth the billable hours. They are great tools to get a story “out there”, yet that’s all they are — tools.
Much like the accompanying pitch, the social media preparation with the link and the talking points derived from the press release, these are tools. Without an assortment of tools, no carpenter is able to build a thing. Flacks have a bevy of tools at their disposal, but putting all of your client’s hopes in a press release is bush league behavior. If you want the press release to do all the talking, go to NAPS and buy a matte release. Press releases are “plug-and-play” in small market papers (sometimes) and a couple of trade blogs (even less than sometimes). Consider them like key messages — they get everyone saying the same thing, but when they say it is a completely different story. Literally.
3. All Publicity is Good Publicity. There’s an aphorism in this field that goes, “Well, as long as they get my name right.” We call bullsh on that all day long. You think the airlines want their names associated with crashes? You think grocery stores want their names associated with a salmonella scare? You think Congress wants their name associated with … well, with anything these days? All publicity is not always good.
There is art and science in PR, but it is still more art than science. You can plan a pitch, but you can’t plan the outcome of a story. That point notwithstanding, if your media relationships are strong and you have managed expectations with your client, there is a mutual understanding of what will take place. That is art. If you rely fully on science, then all your glad-handing and schmoozing won’t mean a thing. This myth keeps coming up over and over again, but all ink is not good ink, especially when it spoils. That is a losing strategy. Shoot, the tactic itself sucks.
4. PR Drives Sales. Uh, yes and no. Any one of us will be hired to do a job in public relations, social media, copywriting, marketing communications or even event planning, but MEMO to everyone involved in this symbiotic relationship: Flacks are not your sales force. We give your sales force the tools they need to validate heads-in-beds, butts-in-seats, dollars-in-registers or whatever equals “Ka-ching!”
Do you know how many angels fall from heaven when a client coughs heavily, leans back in his/her pleather seat and bellows, “As a strategy, I have placed our advertising budget into PR to help drive sales.” Good for you, Jefe, but now what? PR doesn’t build sales. It builds an avenue to help people get to the sale. PR is brand visibility. PR is reputation management. PR is a call-to-action on some of those steroids from the Lance Armstrong and Alex Rodriguez collection. Use PR to help sales and profits happen. Replace PR with sales and that sound you hear will be one colossal “meh.”
5. PR Professionals Don’t Understand the News. Sleazy. I know many PR pros that hear this and cringe because it is just wrong, and most of the people that hear it do not know any better, so they believe it. This is an unfortunate myth that many former hacks are using against us now that they are flacks. You see, the media job wore on them a skosh. The ratings sucked. The news director wanted someone younger in their position. That, or they got canned due to bi-monthly cutbacks. And now, many of those former hacks (like yours truly) are leaving the news for bigger and greener pastures. Their selling point? “The PR people in this field don’t understand the news because they haven’t done the news.”
Wait, what? How many of those hacks-turned-flacks understand the ethics of representing a client story and posting it on social media? How many of those same folk understand even how to pitch to colleagues, much less strangers at other news outlets where they don’t have the name recognition?
Sure, it’s great when that hack’s PR firm gets a hit on his or her old TV station. Now try that trick in Hackensack, N.J. or Billings, Mont., then call me. You see, there is so much we can learn from one another. Hacks have skill sets flacks should learn. Likewise, flacks have mad skills hacks should learn. Although it’s sometimes hard for one side of the fence to admit this, media and PR are involved in a symbiotic relationship.
If we balance it correctly, it benefits everyone — including our clients. If we take the fulcrum and try to smash it in someone’s grill, it helps no one.