How Come PR Gets No Respect?

Muck Rack’s Gregory Galant begins his latest CNN piece on the state of the PR world with a few unsettling facts:

  • US companies spend $150 billion annually on advertising and only $5 billion on public relations
  • Advertising professionals make up to 75% more than their PR counterparts
  • MBA courses in public relations are far rarer than courses in advertising
  • When it comes to pop culture figures, advertising has Don Draper while PR has…Samantha on Sex and the City. Not a fair match, is it?

No matter what the public thinks of the public relations industry, we all know how important it is—and so do the people in power. Steve Jobs himself often served as Apple’s pitchman, calling The Wall Street Journal reporters at home to hype his company’s latest tech innovations.

OK, so why don’t the unwashed masses give us the respect we so obviously deserve? The reasons are clear enough:

  • Problems with trackability. Advertising is an art, not a science; PR is even more so. ROIs are very difficult to calculate, because media coverage and “positive impressions” don’t have a specific dollar value.
  • Problems with scalability. When a traditional ad succeeds, businesses usually just go with a “more, more, more!” strategy. PR isn’t so simple, because repetition is almost never the best option.
  • Bad relations with journalists. The mass email is NOT your friend–it’s that simple. Check out this post on pitching to writers for more on that subject.
  • Let’s face it; some PR cases are all but hopeless. When a brand hits rock bottom (hello, BP), the public generally won’t buy what its PR team is selling. All the hard work in the world can only move the needle so much.

But Galant doesn’t think it’s all over for PR; he gives us a few reasons for hope in the age of social media and information overload:

  • The data explosion makes the act of measuring success easier than ever before. We can track media traffic with amazing accuracy, and a big increase in “likes” and followers is simple enough for any CEO to understand.
  • Social media turns PR personal. With so many new outlets, PR pros can conduct research on media personalities and tailor their work to an unprecedented degree, thereby building real relationships that don’t amount to “Oh God, you again?”
  • “Brand journalism” and sponsored content make PR projects more “scalable” than ever before. We can laugh at promoted tweets and targeted stories, but every company worth its salt has some kind of original content platform going—and those that don’t will be on board soon enough.
  • More customer feedback provides PR teams with more fuel to drive real game-changing decisions, be they creative or strategic.

Galant’s conclusions basically mirror the industry consensus: Data, social media, consumer feedback and the in-depth analysis facilitated by these shiny new tools give PR firms greater leverage to demand bigger budgets—and more respect.

Do we agree?