This article first appeared on PR Daily in October, 2015.
anniversary is coming up.
Ivy Lee, arguably the founder of modern PR, published his Declaration of Principles
about the purpose and value of PR in 1906. Despite more than a century of activity, PR professionals are often asked to define what we mean by PR.
We may explain that PR is about building relationships, reputation management, promoting value and thought leadership by engaging with different groups of people. To outsiders, such explanations don’t mean much, and don’t challenge their preconceived, false notions of PR.
You can further explain by vanquishing misconceptions. Here are the top 10 things PR is not:
1. PR is not spin, lies or misrepresentation.
Spin is bullsh**. The fancy definition is it’s the deliberate distortion of truth: the propagation of lies or a truth so diluted and vague that it’s no longer recognizable.
Spin is to PR what stupid is to Albert Einstein. It’s the Bubonic Plague of communications. PR is about building relationships and credible reputation management.
2. PR is not marketing or advertising.
Marketing and advertising promote a service, product or brand for the purpose of selling it. PR is about building serious credibility and trust by sharing information, knowledge and insight in order to raise awareness about an organisation or a subject.
Marketing and advertising are Las Vegas showbiz. PR is a TED presentation.
3. PR is not a one-time activity.
Reputation management must have longevity to matter. If PR is limited to a specific period of time or a handful of activities, then the reputation won’t be managed or protected.
Building relationships and a reputation takes time and concerted effort. Successful PR pros invest in long-term relationships, based on shared and real values, to achieve a long-lasting positive reputation.
4. PR is not about superficial promotion.
PR is about delivering credible messages. This relationship is based on honest, meaningful content. Only then do PR pros and agencies merit your trust, interest and engagement that help create a good reputation.
5. PR is not about “targets.”
Hunters “target” animals as objects for possession. Anyone who objectifies consumers in that way is surely not to be trusted.
PR relationships are based on respectful engagement. It’s a conversation in which all parties must benefit.
6. PR is not about a “penetration” of markets and audiences.
Though “penetration” is still a common expression among marketers and other communicators, the word is proof of a disdainful, disrespectful and outdated approach.
PR pros respect people with whom they communicate in order to gain a shared understanding. It’s not about having power over someone; it’s about giving power to someone.
7. PR is not about “audiences.”
“Audiences” imply people who are waiting to hear and see something, but the relationship is essentially a passive one. Though they can clap and cheer or boo and hiss, there’s typically no engagement or dialogue.
PR is a conversation, not a monologue. It’s how individuals and communities of shared interests communicate for mutual benefits.
8. PR is not about attacking and scapegoating.
Spin doctors—along with shady agencies and organizations—try to get ahead by lying about their own content and/or undermining those they regard as the enemy (the competition). No good ever comes of it; sooner or later they get caught.
Successful PR pros focus on sharing credible insights, knowledge and understanding. They take responsibility and accountability for actions and words.
9. PR is not just meaningless words.
In most societies, one’s word is recognised as one’s bond.
In law, we even have the term “verbal contract” that can often be legally binding. It’s important to acknowledge that “just words” is not in itself a superficial activity; words matter.
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Words matter, as do actions. Together, done responsibly and well, they embody all of us at our best. To fail in one or the other is to fail in both.
10. PR is not dead.
Every so often there are naïve naysayers and doom merchants who declare that PR is dead. They often sell something else that is supposedly new, different and better—but it’s always PR by another name.
PR will last as long as building relationships and reputation matters, because that’s what it’s all about. It’s here to stay, whether it’s called PR or not.
What would you add to the list, PR Daily readers?
Robert White is the founder of PR Matters. A version of this article originally appeared on the firm's blog.