By Dorothy Crenshaw | Posted: September 23, 2011
Are we living through PR’s “golden age”?
Sometimes it seems like it. Clients understand the benefits of PR and are sophisticated about the trickier aspects, like trading control for a measure of credibility. And budgets are holding up despite the shaky economy.
But other times I wonder. A favorite client of mine refers to public relations as “the cheapest form of advertising.” He means it as a compliment, but it makes me think that misconceptions about PR linger even among seasoned marketers.
Here, then, are seven myths that persist about public relations, and my perspective on each.
1. PR is advertising lite. The two are so distinct that they shouldn’t be compared, or, worse, pitted against one another. As Freddy J. Nager once put it, debating their merits is like arguing which is more important in a football game, offense or defense. It’s a useless argument because each has a different function, and they ideally work in concert.
2. PR is cheap. Although a modest PR investment is peanuts compared to, say, a national TV spot, it’s not insignificant. Budgets vary widely. The key, of course, is to match the need with the right PR resource and approach.
3. PR is publicity. Sure, media coverage is often an end result of a PR program, but a well-crafted plan covers so much more. And to get to the earned media outcomes, there’s plenty of foundation to be laid. Overall brand positioning, media strategy, relationship-building, messaging, etc. all are critical to a successful result. And when the publicity breaks, it’s not usually a magic bullet. (See #5.)
4. PR is about pushing out content. True enough, but many marketers don’t realize it’s a two-way street. A successful public relations program is often designed to tell a brand or business story, yes. But a PR team should also function as a source of feedback and intelligence on what customers and influencers are thinking and saying. If you’re not using them that way, you’re not maximizing your investment.
5. PR drives sales. When I hear a client say they’ve put their ad budget into PR to replace marketing or promotion as a sales driver, it doesn’t make me happy. It’s a red flag, because PR isn’t designed for demand generation. What PR does best is build brand visibility and enhance reputation over time. When it comes to driving sales without a built-in sampling program or other promotional piece, it will nearly always fall short. Frequency is nearly impossible to achieve with publicity alone.
6. PR is about press releases. The news stream is important, but the release itself is a commodity. Press releases don’t add up to a strategic PR program, and the impact of any one release is likely to be minimal. If you’re paying for news releases, you’re wasting your money.
7. PR isn’t measurable. Actually, it is, but this one’s tricky, for two reasons. One is that the traditional metrics of volume and outputs, like ad equivalency or impressions, are outdated and inadequate. Again, the comparison to advertising doesn’t really measure what PR does well. The second challenge is that the research needed to demonstrate PR’s value is sometimes as expensive as the program itself. The good news here is that as social media adoption grows, things like sentiment, message delivery, impact, and action are now trackable.
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