It’s been one year since practitioners of Public Relations came together to celebrate the first-ever world PR Day on the 16th of July, 2021. While commemorating the celebrations is necessary for public relations practitioners and enthusiasts around the world to stake a claim for the practice, much more needs to be done to counter the misconceptions about the field globally.
My first experience with public relations was from the movie Sex and the City. The character Samantha Jones, played by Kim Cattrall, was a public relations professional who did very little work, dressed in designer clothes, and had access to the coolest parties and exotic travels. When her friends had a crisis, they seemed to think Samantha was the person to call. I innocently thought PR was glitz, glamour, and occasional crisis management. However, the actual practice of the profession has made it clear that the misconceptions around the practice of public relations stem from a sensationalization of the field by the media and are made worse by the public’s ignorance about PR.
An attempt to debunk all the PR myths will be a Herculean task. However, I write hoping it will inspire other PR practitioners to rebut these misconceptions until we know PR for what it is – a management function that establishes and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between an organization, person or entity, and the various public on whom their success or failure depends.
As is the nature of misconceptions, half-truths are often presented as the whole truth. The same is true for most of the wrongly held beliefs about public relations. One preconceived view of public relations is equating the practice to publicity. A public relations practitioner is not a publicist; a publicist generates and manages publicity for an organization or public figure. On the other hand, a public relations professional is an advisory consultant, a bridge builder who builds and maintains long-term relationships between an organization and its public. Unlike the publicist, the PR professional uses systematic tools and measurable approaches to create two-way communication between a brand and its stakeholders that builds trust.
Having established differences between public relations and publicity, another misconception seeks to place the need for public relations as one reserved for the ‘big brands’. This is false. As a company gets off the ground, public relations helps communicate key messaging and value propositions to stakeholders. Strategic media relations can position the business in a way that appeals to investors and garners trust from stakeholders. As the business grows, PR focus may shift to thought leadership and crisis preparedness and management. Public relations is necessary for every stage and size of a business, big brand or not.
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A publicly held opinion of public relations is that it is a practice focused only on building relationships with the media, writing press releases, and being at the bottom of the ladder in marketing communications. This is a half-truth because while public relations involves building relationships with the media and writing press releases, it involves more strategic communication and media relationship management.
The relationship between public relations and other forms of marketing communication is collaborative. We consider public relations isn’t just marketing communication, but a management function aimed at building positive relationships between an organization and its stakeholders. Its practice generates trust and credibility more than any other form of marketing communication. Therefore, to relegate it to the bottom of the marketing communications ladder is nothing short of ignorant.
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The notion that public relations is a field to cover track when things go wrong in organizations is another half-truth, as earlier established. A big part of public relations is crisis management. In fact, in the event of a crisis, an organization’s public relations team is the first responders and defence. In a digital world, public relations practitioners often have to adopt an always-on approach to monitoring the activities of clients to handle crises effectively. However, in doing so, the PR practitioner aims to restore trust and positive relationships between the organization and stakeholders. In times of crisis, the PR practitioner is ready and merely sets in motion, already laid down crisis management structure.
Public relation is a field that emphasizes trust and truth in its relationship with the media or other stakeholders. The World PR Day, 2022 theme, “The Need For Trust, Truth, and Transparency in Today’s World” is a global platform that buttresses this, among others. Post-covid, public relations has played an essential role in building trust between organizations and their public. It also helped navigate the crisis of the pandemic and adapt to the new normal. Now, organizations are more aware of the importance of public relations and practitioners are more vocal in their advocacy for the practice.
Adetola Fajembola is a public relations associate living in Nigeria.