Debunking PR Agency Myths: 5 Things You Thought You Knew About PR

Mar 6, 2014

As PR professionals, it’s part of our mandate to ask and answer some hard-hitting questions. Why did (insert company name here) fail? Were performance enhancing drugs behind Lance Armstrong’s record breaking seven Tour de France wins? Yes. Will A-Rod ever stop lying? No. Of all the questions we’re asked, however, my personal favorite is this: what does your firm actually do?  

In simple terms, public relations firms manage a company’s image and reputation. We also help develop a company’s image or help them get back on track if things have gone wrong. And it’s also our role to create as much credibility and visibility for our clients and keep their brands in a positive spotlight, whether we’re talking about consumer-facing or business-to-business brands – many of which fly under the radar of mainstream media.

The sad truth is that most companies fall prey to common misconceptions about public relations tactics that won’t actually help them achieve their goal. So let’s debunk five of the most prevalent myths:

There is no such thing as bad publicity.

…said no good publicist ever. Just because someone’s name – or their company’s – hits the national newswires, it doesn’t mean it’s for good reason. (For more information, see: ROB FORD)Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. Public relations is a balance of art and science – we can’t always plan the outcome of a story, but we can plan what information we put out there. Consider the December 2013 Target data breach – and the misinformation broadcasted by the company. The long-term damage to its brand equity is predicted to be between $500 million and $1 billon. Still want to shop at Target? I didn’t think so. No wonder the retailer’s CIO stepped down earlier this week. Or what about the Costa Concordia capsizing in 2012? How excited are you to hop aboard on that next voyage? My sentiment exactly.

Press releases are the best (read as: only) way to get media attention.

Sadly, many companies still think press releases are the best things since Angry Birds. While they were, for a long time, an effective way to reach reporters, PR strategies have significantly shifted. Today, it’s all about personalization. While press releases are a “one size fits all” tool that give high-level information to the masses, they don’t send targeted information that’s specific to a reporter’s area of expertise or interest. It’s like receiving a direct mailer with coupons for baby food. Yes, I’m a parent but I don’t have young babies anymore.

Then there’s the poor writing. Check out these choice picks courtesy of Buzzfeed. For more on what we think about press releases, read here.

Media pitches, on the other hand, are focused on crafting a story based on a particular angle and/or industry trend that a reporter covers and resonates with his/her audience.

People will only believe you’re an expert if they see you in big media.

Most executives (and everyone in the marketing food chain) perceive that it’s best for major news outlets to get behind you and your company. More often than not, it’s not going to happen, or quickly unless you’ve just been acquired by Facebook. What companies need is a skilled public relations firm, preferably one that specializes in their industry, to position them as “thought leaders.”

Read more about that on ThinkPeople.

More importantly, these firms have established relationships with an extensive list of media outlets, conference organizers, analysts and other influencers that companies most likely wouldn’t have developed on their own. With these resources at their disposal, public relations agencies can get companies in front of the right prospects and audience, with the right message delivered through the right media outlets.

Since you can’t measure public relations success, it must be worthless.

Unlike advertising, public relations can’t always be quantified by a dollar amount – but that doesn’t mean it won’t positively affect a marketing budget’s ROI and bottom line. It’s the age old debate over advertising vs. PR. When companies pay to advertise, they are of course guaranteed placement in a specific media outlet – but what is the real benefit? For consumer-facing brands, paying for advertising – when supported by a multichannel approach which may or may not include PR – can be an effective way to impact a mass of consumers. But for B2B brands, paid advertising neither establishes credibility nor reaches the right audience. What B2B brands really need is a strategic approach that doesn’t focus on the number of people contacted, but rather the number of interested people (and therefore, potential clients) that are actually impacted and can be added to the company’s sales funnel (read: revenue).

Big PR firms have big contacts, which means they always earn big media placements.

Despite what most women tell you, size doesn’t always matter. While large PR firms may have a lot of contacts – and more perceived manpower to build relationships with them – good contacts do not guarantee good media, or any media at all. Coming up with effective strategies, compelling ideas and great concepts to market a new product or company offering is about more than knowing the right people. Effective PR – PR that delivers business results not just a bunch of press clippings – is about striking the right balance between a having compelling story and having the know-who, know-how, perfect timing and relevant industry knowledge.

PR firms the world over struggle with proving their worth – due mainly to clients’ past experiences with unsuccessful PR efforts and agencies that overpromised and under-delivered. At ThinkInk, we work hard to change that perception day-in, day out – so here’s to debunking yet another PR myth!

What are your pet peeves about PR agencies? What do you expect from a PR to deliver? Share your views and experiences with the ThinkInk community below:

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