I was once mistaken for a celebrity. I was coming out of the back entrance at Jimmy Kimmel Live and the paparazzi began frantically snapping photos. I assured them I was no one worth photographing, but they were relentless. I hurried around the corner and ducked into a urine-soaked alley to quickly call the driver, let my boss know that Kimmel wouldn’t be running the clip we wanted (not a fun conversation) and dial into a radio show to sit on hold with the producer until the actual celebrity I was with had finished his appearance on Kimmel and could record an interview to air the next morning. Once on hold and safely on mute, I hurried back to the studio exit just in time to meet said celebrity, fend off the flashing cameras and pull him into the car that I had just summoned. Glamorous, right?
At times, the day-to-day work that goes into public relations may not feel glamorous or flashy, but it sure is addictive for those in the profession. It’s also stressful. So stressful, in fact, that Forbes added PR to their “Most Stressful Jobs Of 2014.”
What many don’t realize is the enormous amount of thinking, strategizing and planning PR truly requires. We have depth and deep knowledge of our clients, their products and technology, their industries and target audiences. It requires incredibly thick skin, perseverance (read: relentless) and the ability to thoughtfully leverage assets to secure opportunities that may initially appear to be out of reach, which is how I have managed to land many interviews and appearances, like the one on Kimmel, over the years.
I have found in my decade-long career in PR that there are many misconceptions or confusion about what we PR folks do. I was curious if others had experienced the same awkward conversations when trying to explain to our profession, so I asked a few of my colleagues what they believed was the most common misconception about PR. Here are their answers:
- “That it only involves press releases and getting media coverage for the sake of ‘awareness.’ While that may have been true some years ago, today’s communications program is more about driving business outcomes than getting in the WSJ.”
- “The most common misconception of PR is that it is a flashy or easy job. Real PR takes long hours and dedication to develop meaningful relationships with your clients, the media and your target audiences.”
- “It’s the same thing as marketing. Public relations is an element of marketing that works in conjunction with other marketing activities. We can certainly help with many of those other activities – it’s absolutely a growing trend – but marketing and public relations are not the same thing.”
- “The common misconception I encounter frequently about PR is that we all work with movie stars and our jobs are glamorous. Most days we’re sitting in cubes, pitching reporters and writing behind the scenes. There are very few Samantha Joneses or Edina Monsoons in our industry. In the Silicon Valley, we generally represent technology companies, not celebrities. Most of us have more humble jobs where we shy away from the limelight to shine the spotlight on our client’s technologies and the impact their company is having on their industry, their customers and their partners.”
- “Many people think that the impact of public relations is impossible to determine. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Public relations is about solving real business challenges by properly activating a company’s available channels with the right message at the right time to achieve measureable results. If your program isn’t tied to a business action, then you are doing vanity PR, which may be nice for a short time but will ultimately leave you wondering where your money went.”
- “That it’s easy. On a daily basis, we are faced with long hours, rejection from the media, representing brands in a very public light and a lot of money on the line. No wonder PR professionals enjoy a good happy hour every now and again!”
- “I think the most common misperception about PR is everything about it – people outside of the industry still don’t really understand what PR is (and what it is not). PR is still confused with marketing and considered ‘fluffy’ and unimportant. The nice thing about that misperception is that when you explain what you do as a PR professional, you see the light bulb go on and a new measure of respect appear on the person’s face…and rightly so, because this job is far from easy! The challenge is part of the fun.”
- “That just because something is ‘news’ makes it newsworthy.”
- “I’ve found that technical folks tend to be surprised at how technical PR people can get. The biggest misconception that they seem to have is that we’re writers, or booth staff, or something other – something not directly tied to hitting business goals and driving revenue. In the early days of my career, it genuinely made me angry that I had to prove myself knowledgeable on the subject matter. Now, it’s a point of pride if I can change perception of what PR is and what its value is by showing how deep I can go into the business.”
Clearly my colleagues agree with me that the life of a PR professional is not easy nor is it the romanticized version that we see on television and in the movies. We need to be well-read, organized and agile. Real PR requires careful planning and strategy. PR today can be quantified by examining business goals – brand awareness, sales, perception, etc. – and aligning the PR strategy with those goals. Good PR enables a brand to create a community of advocates in the media and amongst analysts, employees and customers. Good PR then drives engagement within that community and inspires people to take action. When done well, these actions lead to the achievement of business goals.
Does PR sound a bit more complicated now?
As complicated as it is, I love the challenge. Onlookers and clients have probably assumed my job was easy, but I suppose that was my own doing. A good PR professional always makes the job look effortless.
Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.