Untangling the Web of PR Myths

The public relations career can sometimes be perceived as conniving and superficial thanks to unrealistic portrayals of the communications field, such as Scandal and Spin City. Publicists are sometimes rendered as reckless individuals who don’t do any work beyond attending parties and deceiving people. But, nothing could be further from the truth! So this post is dedicated to debunking several misconceptions about the practice.

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Beware the Spin of an Invisible Public Relations

Public relations professionals are still seen as unethical manipulators of the truth. In fact, a 2004-agency survey revealed that only seven percent of Americans thought company public relations spokespeople were credible. One particular movie contributed to creating this stereotype: Thank you for Smoking. Starring Nick Eckhart, the film recounts the story of a negligent PR executive who devises a machiavellian plan to delude the public into consuming tobacco and alcohol, thus portraying PR professionals as dishonest and misguiding. However, public relations professionals, in conjunction with scholars, public organisms, and private companies, have strived in recent years to overcome this bad reputation and establish an ethic code in an attempt to regulate practitioners’ ethical behavior. The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and the International Public Relations Association (IPRA) are a few examples of such institutions setting the standards and defining codes to guide PR behavior.

Cocktails and Parties: The Core Skillset of PR Executives

Another misperception contributes to the belief that public relations is a frivolous career. MTV’s PoweR Girls, ABC’s Spin City, and HBO’s Sex and the City portrayed some of their main characters as PR executives who never did any work beyond attending parties, drinking glamorous cocktails, and wearing fancy attires. While some of the more glamorous events do entail wining and dining with editors and prospective new business clients, so much of our work is meant to be unseen—scheduling events, creating media content, executing interviews, reporting, and much more.

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Public Relations: The Problem-Solving Magic Wand

We all agree a well-crafted communications and PR plan can greatly benefit a brand. But PR cannot build castles in the air. We need to develop a solid PR plan from a tangible reality. Some TV shows in recent years, including ABC’s Scandal, have extended the misconception that PR is the secret to solving world problems. While we can certainly ‘work magic’ in certain situations, we need something real to base our strategies upon. Building a PR plan on a false reality will only result in a communications disaster that will damage both the executive’s and the brand’s reputation.

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Of course some of these may seem harmless, but as marketing professionals, we know better than anyone that media can be a powerful force in creating a false and distorted reality.

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