It was 1897. The first woman was elected to the United States Senate. Runners lined up for the first Boston Marathon. The railroads boomed. 1897 was also the year the first documented use of the term ‘public relations’ appeared in the book “1897 Year Book of Railway Literature." In the more than 120 years since those two little words were published, public relations has become its own field. It’s been a critical component of everything from Amazon to kale to the Pope. Still, there are very few people outside of the profession who truly understand what public relations practitioners do (ask your parents if you don’t believe us).
If you’re unclear about the definition of PR, we’re here to help you (and your parents if you want to send them this article). In order to understand what public relations is and why it’s so important, let’s dig into what public relations ISN’T by breaking down a few of the myths out there.
Myth 1: PR is the same as advertising
The big difference here comes down to the almighty dollar. Both advertising and PR live in the media sector, but PR relates to earned media. That means media coverage is unpaid and was either proactively pitched to a journalist, or the journalist found the story themselves. Advertising, on the other hand, involves a paid placement and must be disclosed as such. When done correctly, public relations can serve as the most cost-effective and credible way to market your business.
Myth 2: PR is all spin
Do you trust anyone who twists the truth? I didn’t think so. Solid journalists don’t either. The fact is, public relations is all about building trust. Journalists rely on public relations professionals they trust to provide the facts--their reputation depends on it. They also depend on public relations professionals as they build their story and, when all is said and done, PR professionals are storytellers. To do that well and become a skilled, respected ally who can adeptly manage a reputation and serve as a resource, trust is paramount. Spin Doctors are a band.
Myth 3: Media contacts are all you need to be successful
Keep dreaming. Journalists are busy. Knowing the right people is one thing, telling the story is quite another. Building relationships with the media is incredibly important, but your story is just one of many for them. You won’t be able to secure the coverage you want if you’re not driving the story with a strategic approach focused on the interests of the journalist, their readers and your audience.
Myth 4: All press is good press
I am shocked how often I hear this, as if getting your name in print or broadcast is the ultimate goal. Public relations is about reputation, not just awareness. And GOOD public relations is about helping clients achieve the goals of their organization. When you say that “all press is good press,” you are excusing the sentiment of what is said. When we don’t deal with an issue appropriately, fail to plan or are careless with our words, what started as an opportunity can quickly evolve into a crisis with the need for damage control. Don’t believe the hype.
Myth 5: Only large companies can afford PR
While it’s true that most large companies have PR, it doesn’t mean they are the only ones who can afford it. Some agencies work on a retained basis, others work hourly or project based, and the rates for each can vary greatly. The size of the agency matters as well. When you are dealing with a large global firm, retainers can easily run over $20,000 each month, while solo practitioners may just bill you by scope or time. Many companies decide to work with boutique firms, and for good reason. Not only are the rates favorable, but experienced managers and leadership (often having left global firms themselves) continue to be involved in your account, not just pass it off to junior staff once the deal is signed.
After almost 20 years working at both global firms and working as a solo practitioner, I wanted to develop solutions for every budget. Our agency believes everyone can benefit from strategic PR and provide services to make it attainable to both a small business and large corporations.
What are some myths you’ve heard about public relations?
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First use of “public relations”: https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Public_relations
On this day: https://www.onthisday.com/events/date/1897/april
Railroad boom: https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=RA004