It can be difficult to define public relations, particularly as there are different perspectives regarding what it is. However, it is much easier to give guidance on what it is not. Indeed, subscribing to the view that ‘PR is what PR does‘, the following offers an idiot’s guide to what PR is not, and what is does not do, especially for those who work in SEO and digital marketing.
Rule 1: PR is not free. Knowledge, understanding and skill in PR has a value and it costs money to employ competent practitioners who are also likely require budget to execute creative ideas. Consequently, PR should also not be considered as free advertising.
Rule 2: PR is not simply media or influencer relations. Where the credibility of third-party endorsement is something that PR practitioners understand and may be able to secure, this is just one of the aspects of public relations.
Rule 3: PR is not about spamming media or influencers. There’s a clue in the second word, relations. If you want to build relationships with media contacts or influencers, this involves more than securing a database list and emailing a request for them to publish your messages. Not only does a spam approach only work with those who generate ‘cut and paste’ copy of little merit, it irritates the hell out of those who place real value on the material that they publish. And that includes the editorial team here at PR Conversations.
Rule 4: PR is not churning out content. Most of the above spam approaches feature junk. This material may include carefully crafted key messages and an entirely positive impression that is intended to achieve the senders’ objectives. But to receivers, this is frequently junk or pointless promotion rather than having any nugget of interest to them or their audiences/communities.
Rule 5: PR is not about entitlement. Another clue can be found in the concept of earning coverage, endorsement, a valued relationship or respected reputation. Anyone demanding or expecting to get what they want without the humility implied in ‘earning’ credibility does not have a PR mindset. PR practitioners think in terms mutually-beneficial relationships rather than the more commercial approaches familiar in marketing where advertising space, for example, is traded.
Rule 6: PR is not easy. It takes hard work and there are few short-cuts to success. This means that PR practitioners do not tend to think about gaming systems as they recognise there will be negative consequences from doing so. When we earn endorsements or generate media coverage we know that to be influential and credible requires integrity and authenticity. These aren’t just buzzwords but have been true for the hundred years plus that intelligent PR has existed. Yes, you can pay for clicks, friends and followers in social media or generate these with meaningless competitions. Yes, you can use bribes and other dubious tactics to get positive reviews – but these will ultimately lack value.
Rule 7: PR is not focused on clicks and views. Achieving organic search engine optimisation is about more than tricks to generate clicks and views. That’s why more SEO folk than PR practitioners are worried about Google’s comments about press releases. First, PR practitioners view a press/media release as means of providing information, not a vehicle for SEO content. Only those in the junk business stuff releases with references to brand names and other terms simply to generate clicks and views. Ditto with in-document self-referential links and other practices that ignore that quality of information is the core remit of a release.
Rule 8: PR is not about pseudo-stories. It often seems that marketing types think they’ve invented ideas that are so obvious to PR practitioners that we take them for granted. This applies to story-telling and narrative as examples. Communication is inherently a human business and people like telling stories. Journalists know this. PR practitioners know this. But marketing people seem to have only recently realised this. To be fair, the best advertising ideas have normally had a clear narrative that has resonated with people. A good story is something that is memorable and remarkable (worthy of remark) – hence people want to pass it on. Sometimes PR practitioners might have fun with a story, but unless there is something that connects with a relevant public and has strategic communicative value, it should get no further than an ideas generation session.
Rule 9: PR is not a last-minute tactical option. Any PR practitioner will tell you one of their biggest irritations is someone asking them to ‘PR’ something with zero notice. If we are included at the start of a process – or at least are briefed and invited to have some input at an early stage – you’ll get our best work. We can do ‘what if’ thinking and avoid potential issues or crisis situations from arising. We can come up with ideas that quite probably will work better than, or at any rate, enhance, marketing executions, frequently for far less cost and planning time. None of us have a bottle in our desk drawers marked PR that we can sprinkle onto a fully formed issue or campaign and generate the same sparkle that we can if we are part of the initial discussions. And, PR works best when it is focused on strategic outcomes – that’s why so many smart executives have the senior PR person report direct to them.
Rule 10: PR is not soft, fluffy and girly. The stereotype of PR is that it is peopled by young women who organise parties and use charm and flirting to achieve results. But the reality is that more women in PR (and yes, this is an occupation dominated by female practitioners) are formidable, insightful doers. The answer to my own recent question: are women in PR too nice? – is really a resounding no. Rather than using gendered behaviour, real PR women have to reflect a professional approach to be taken seriously and counter the PR bunny pre-conceptions.
So that’s a quick guide. I’m sure there are many other useful piece of advice along the what PR is not approach that PR Conversations expert community of practice would be willing to share with our SEO and digital marketing colleagues.
Neville Hobson and Shel Holtz reviewed this post and discussed its comments in their podcast, For Information Only (FIR #718) – which can be accessed via this link: http://www.nevillehobson.com/2013/08/27/the-hobson-and-holtz-report-podcast-718-august-26-2013/ Thanks to them both for picking up on the topic – and also to Neville for his post: http://www.nevillehobson.com/2013/08/23/a-reminder-seo-isnt-pr/ – which has generated additional debate.