Busting 5 modern myths about PR

Why there's usually another side to every PR trend or story. And why the list isn't everything.

I have no desire to be perceived as a modern-day King Canute, desperately trying to hold back the passage of progress.

So, in light of the modern obsession with lists, I have put one together gleaned from some enjoyable and informative conversations I had this week with super-smart people in the industry. OK, it’s only a small list, but hopefully you will find useful.

1. PR is communications
People often ask me why we don’t change the name of PRWeek to Communications Week, or lose the "Week" part of the title. I reply that PRWeek is a very strong brand and that while we no longer publish a weekly print edition we do still deliver a Weekly Online product to our readers/users every Friday at lunchtime, so the moniker is still valid from a factual point of view as well as a brand perspective. After all, WPP no longer manufactures wire and plastic products, but the brand name still serves the Martin Sorrell-helmed holding company more than well.

But it’s the communications piece of that name that would also rankle with me. While communications is undoubtedly an important part of PR, especially in a marketing context, it is certainly not the be-all and end-all of the profession. How many times has the most valuable piece of counsel provided by a PR pro run along the lines of "I’d advise you not to do that", or "Say nothing on this one", or "Let’s hang fire and see what happens before we respond"? As we all know, some of the best pieces of crisis counsel and other forms of reputation management result in zero coverage and no resulting firestorm. That is about public relations, not communications. That's why PR agencies and PR people should not be ashamed of the "PR" part of their titles. And, by the way, that valuable counsel is also one of the most profitable parts of the PR business.

2. Media relations is dead
There’s a renewed respect for the art of smart media relations that can get you quick coverage and move the needle, especially in relation to entertainment, celebrity, or tabloid outlets. Clients want their products and spokespeople on TMZ, E!, and Bravo and in The New York Post and US Weekly, and on Mail Online, Gawker, and Perez Hilton. They place high value on PR people who have excellent contacts in all these outlets and can get them quick and effective coverage.

It goes way beyond "smiling and dialing." And those folks who specialize in it don’t always sit within the large PR behemoths – there are plenty of media-savvy operators in small to mid-sized firms, especially in New York City and Los Angeles. Media relations is dead; long live media relations.

3. There's gold at the end of the marketing rainbow
The recent growth of the two largest PR firms in the world – Edelman and Weber Shandwick – has been attributed in part to the increasing amount of work they get from the marketing function at clients. They – and many others - are activating social campaigns and producing content on behalf of brands. They are increasingly buying media, especially in the digital space. They are expanding their budget allocations from clients by taking on work that historically either didn’t exist or was carried out by advertising and media agencies.

This is all well and good, and it has to be a positive trend. But be slightly careful of what you wish for. Some of this work is much more in the territory of the dreaded procurement departments, and subject to greater scrutiny and price sensitivity than PR firms have typically been used to. There is also the tendency for such work to be commissioned at one price and then squeezed really hard once the agency is "on the hook." Much as in the way that a supplier of CPG products to vast retailers becomes beholden to them once they have staffed up and increased production capacity, so the same syndrome can apply to PR firms scaling up for large marketing assignments.

It is a positive development that the PR community is now a player in this game, but those involved must enter it with their eyes wide open. There is not always gold at the end of the rainbow - and the margins are not always that high.

4. The New York Times is infallible
I have the greatest of respect for The New York Times. It is the gold standard of journalism and a front page call out for your brand or company can make or break your business, depending on its content and context. However, The Gray Lady is not infallible. On Monday it printed a story with no byline, subhead, date, or lede. On its front page.

Maybe it was just a coincidence that this came soon after the announcement of another 100 job cuts in the newsroom at the venerable institution, but it was certainly a timely reminder of the need for careful checking and multiple sets of eyes proofing the product before it goes to press. People have rightfully high expectations of The Times and it must maintain its standards if that reputation is to be maintained.

5. Lists are the future.
Yes, we all love lists. PRWeek has succumbed to the trend and uses this device as much as the next media outlet - as you can see from the format of this article. But there are other ways to get your message over and present your content. Even BuzzFeed has a department specializing in long-form content. So in our seemingly inexorable march toward presenting every single article or piece of information in list format, let's remember that there is more than one way to skin a cat. Despite what Marshall McLuhan said, the medium is not always the message.

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