Hopping Off the Bandwagon: Debunking PR Misconceptions

5 min read

Elephant balancing on ball while holding a megaphone

Going to the circus feels like one of those rites of passage in childhood. However, after my first visit, I quickly learned I hate clowns and because I love elephants so much, I was really sad for how they were treated. So, when Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus closed in 2017, I can’t say I was heartbroken.

However, as a public relations professional, it would be remiss of me not to recognize P.T. Barnum for some of his contributions to this field. He was one of the first to use a variety of tactics we still rely on to this day—publicists, media tours, and planned events—to garner media attention.

On the other hand, he was also famous for the sentiment, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity,” and that’s where I jump off P.T.’s bandwagon. There can absolutely be times you don’t want reporters calling or have cameras present to capture the moment. His approach to PR, along with other trends like the rise in celebrity culture or bad decisions when a business is in trouble, started a long history of the public relations practice sometimes getting a bad reputation. And unfortunately, if people misuse PR, it can lead to bad results that take years to recover from.

As one of the ringmasters of public relations at Well Done Marketing, I’d like to debunk some misconceptions we hear over and over. If you need a refresher on what the heck PR is, we’ve got you covered here too. Let the show begin!

Extra, Extra: It’s More Than Media Relations

Probably the most common response when I ask somebody if they know what public relations is, they say “media relations.” Not wrong, but not complete. I can promise you we’re not fielding journalists’ requests all day long. While taking a phone call from a journalist is part of the job, our work has evolved to be more complicated and diverse than that.

As newsrooms shrink, journalists get busier and more focused on the topics they cover. On our side of the Big Top, we’re continuously being challenged to find interesting, unique ways to share the work our clients do across a variety of platforms.

At our core, we are strategists. We’re constantly working with clients to align business and marketing goals with a variety of tactics that will convey the good work a client does and position them as an expert voice in their field. Alongside identifying tactics, we help determine the messages and how they should be delivered to the audiences your company wants to reach. That means the PR team needs to foster relationships with stakeholders, community partners, and other key audiences to understand how messages resonate and how you can be good advocates to each other.

There has also been a trend in recent years to combine public relations and social media efforts as companies adopt a variety of platforms to get their message across. So, not only are we experts of the news cycle, but we also need to be prepared to know best practices for social media, too.

Spinning Plates, Not Facts

Spin is selectively picking information and intentionally misleading an audience. There is a belief that PR work revolves around making a client, celebrity, or company look good and if necessary, we’ll lie to get there. That’s simply not the case.

Many professionals across the U.S., myself included, are members of the Public Relations Society of America and subscribe to a code of ethics: advocacy, honesty, expertise, independence, loyalty, and fairness. I can speak for our team and say ethics and morality guide so much of what we do. At Well Done, we will always advise our clients to be truthful and transparent, whether that’s in an interview or when they issue a statement. And if they aren’t, chances are good we won’t continue working with them.

There’s Enough Room Under the Big Top for Everyone

At some point in our career, all PR professionals will experience the incorrect assumption from others that we can meaningfully and successfully share announcements publicly well after messages have been formed, campaign assets created, and a launch plan has been set into motion.

Unlike the three rings of a circus, departments should form more of a Venn diagram to ensure a company’s success and public relations should be one of them. We can be a really good sounding board for ideas. While we’re not officially taught this in school, we’re at the table to play devil’s advocate; to run through all the scenarios of how the messages will be received by audiences.

Additionally, being brought in late can hurt the outcome of media efforts because we won’t have enough time to thoughtfully plan a strong media relations campaign. We also can’t be as effective as possible if we don’t understand the origins, iterations, and intention of a project. Point is: It’s important to integrate your PR team into overall strategy or campaign planning from the beginning.

We’d Love to Join the Circus

PR professionals have a lot to offer—it isn’t just media requests and press releases. Our skill sets make us renaissance people: One day we’re helping a client prepare for an interview and the next we’re advising on how to best respond to a social media comment. If you’re not sure if a PR person should be in the room, just ask to see if we want to join the circus.

Ready to jump in the ring? Reach out to us at pr@welldonemarketing.com.