Countering the public’s poor perception of PR

In a society where instant communication is the accepted (and expected) norm and where citizens are actively engaging with brands, it’s no surprise that Public Relations has become a key component of any business’ communications strategy.

That being said, PR as an industry is known for having a less than favourable reputation thanks to a few unscrupulous actors who have been falsely assumed to be demonstrative of the industry as a whole – Yes, we’re blaming you, Max Clifford…

Do not assume Ab Fab is accurate… its not. Credit: Sports Relief 2012

The irony of this poor rep is not lost on us.

Contrary to the misconception, PR professionals are not evil propaganda merchants weaving a web of lies for the public.

Viv Segal (Managing Director of South Africa’s Sefin Marketing) said that “PR means telling the truth and working ethically, even when all the media want is headlines and all the public wants is scapegoats. Public relations fails when there is no integrity”, and that’s a statement that is heartfelt amongst many of my peers.

Yes, what we do is centred around managing our clients’ reputations, and yes, our aim is to promote their brand and the work they do. But rather than some sinister plot of lies and spin, we do this by paying attention to what the public is interested in, finding solid connections with the work of our businesses, and by building relationships with those who matter whether they’re journalists, influencers, celebrities or Joe Bloggs from down’t road.

The main issues we face can be isolated in a variety of ways but at the end of the day, it all boils down to a lack of trust.

We have a symbiotic relationship with journalists – though they remain the gatekeepers to our securing media coverage. By lazy PRs – or those new enough to the industry to not know any better –sending out swathes of badly-written, untargeted, and often unsound press releases with often little actual news value, this relationship is being eroded.  When you consider how many of these they must receive on a weekly basis – given that there are approximately 55’000 PR professionals currently working in the UK according to the most recent ONS Labour Force Survey – is it any surprise why they are becoming increasingly cynical and unwilling to work with us.

Counteracting this issue is one that can only be tackled by good work being created on an agency by agency basis, with experienced PR professionals teaching those more junior what is and isn’t appropriate.

That however is not the whole picture. Its not longer enough for agencies to just come up with great creative content. Although this is indeed the first step, we must additionally assess and prove the impact of our work.

That means… METRICS.

Everything we do for a client must be measured; and measurement must be methodic, regular, segmented, accessible and agile. We may generate customised PR reports containing our outputs and then create clipping decks to trace how these outputs performed. The primary focus of most measurement for PR professionals is qualitative i.e., how our clients look, where our work has been published, the tone attached by the journalist to our clients information. This is the core challenge for us to meet as clients often find it easier to understand and appreciate concrete quantitative information on the number of press releases published, number of attendees to an event or number of ‘likes’ or ‘follows’ to a page.

No matter what type of measurement we use however, tying our results to our overall objective(s) is imperative. After all, outputs that don’t relate to what we are attempting to accomplish are really just wasted energy.

By applying the principles of good communications to our own industry, businesses and careers – rather than just to the work we do for our clients – we can better challenge the next person who jokes about our industry being full of spin, and perhaps educate them a bit more about what we actually do and what our work can accomplish.

Do you have any bigger ideas on how we can change the perception on PR? Let me know in a comment below.

I’m nice when you get to know me, honest!

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