The misconceptions of the PR industry from a consultant’s point of view

By Gloria Mononela

The Public Relations (PR) industry has suffered the perception of merely being called a ‘spin – doctoring’ practice for many years, and thanks to television series and movies – we simply can’t get away from that perception! Try explaining what PR is or what we do for a living to a layman and, trust me, all they hear is marketing something or other. #confusionmustfall

While PR is classified under the marketing discipline, and rightly so, it is fundamentally different to the (while generalised) promotional or sales objectives of many marketing implementations. PR holds objective value. It’s a discipline that should drive meaningful conversations – directly or indirectly. As the official PRISA definition states: “Public Relations is the management, through communication, of perceptions and strategic relations between an organisation and its internal and external stakeholders.”

So, at a strategic level, PR is the objective perception that all relevant audiences have of a product/service and overall brand (business). Objective is the key term in this (instance). It’s the perception that is built within the mindset of the public (not driven by paid for promotional activity) through meaningful conversations. These conversations need to be realistic, relevant, effectively implemented and create a tangible and positive difference. Simply put: Do what you say you will in the paid-for space.

So, if Public Relations was to be summarised, from a service point of view, we could do so as follows:

Client relations. Typically, a PR agency is engaged by a brand, to provide the objective brand messaging and the media outlet expertise. Having a valued client/ agency partnership, based on trust and working towards a common goal, is critical in successful PR campaigns. This relationship should be viewed as an extension of the businesses marketing strategy.

Influencer relations. Influencer relations is the ‘bread and butter’ for PR professionals as these influencers (media/bloggers) inform the market about a brand’s value and intrinsic purpose. As a PR professional, building and holding trust relationships with influencers is critical. Providing relevant, objective and decisive information enables the PR professional to act as a brand agent, on its client’s behalf. What’s more, public relations professionals rely on the authenticity of influencers to generate objective brand value – and so ensuring the brand content is relevant, is fundamental.

Crisis management. This entails managing information (typically negative) within a communications environment (mainstream media/social media etc.). Crisis represents a threatening situation for an organisation’s reputation and needs to be managed strategically and intentionally – with exceptional communication expertise. The value that an experienced PR crisis professional can bring to a brand is often undervalued or misunderstood, until the crisis presents itself.

From the explanation above, it’s clear that PR is objectively driven and critically important to building meaningful brand value. So then why are there so many misconceptions about the PR industry and why is PR so hard to explain?

I think there are 3 key areas to clear up:

PR is just about press releases and press conferences
Meaningful content and proactive outreach is what builds the PR process. Issuing news for news sake (and is it really news?) is long past and doing conferences and events to announce something (again, is it really news?), is fast becoming stale and outdated. As digital communications take preference due to the time viability it adds, the instant communication need it feeds and the scale/reach it enables, being able to be creative and dynamic in how a brand communicates – will always separate the good from the exceptional.

Public relations is glamourous
Valuable PR is challenging work. Planning, allocating, strategising, re-planning, outreach, knowing everything about every industry, content value and intense relationships. It’s demanding work. Being strategic is a pre-requisite to growth as a viable PR consultant.

Free publicity is easy
Nothing comes for free in this world. If your content is not valuable, it won’t be used. Simple.

Part of our job as PR professionals must be to defend our value, but more importantly display our value. I am responsible for educating companies and the layman about what we do to build that understanding about the profession, about the kind of value public relations can have for businesses and – how objective opinion – is really the only way to build real brand value.


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