Public Relations

Do You Really Understand the PR Industry?

As a public relations undergrad, I love all things PR and will spot a PR driven campaign or initiative from a mile away. However, throughout my three years of studying I’ve noticed that a large amount of people don’t have a clue what PR is. As a matter of fact, most people don’t even know what PR stands for.

I’ve only been involved in the ‘PR world’ for a few years now and it bothers me that firstly, people don’t know what PR is and secondly, how badly people mistake it for something it is not. Considering public relations is about reputation management, it seems there is a lot of work to be done for its own reputation.

Why do people not understand what PR is and where did its bad rep come from? I often think people relate PR with politics and crisis. When a politician or an organisation is seen to be having a crisis, people assume a PR practitioner tries to cover up the truth by spinning the facts about what has or hasn’t happened. But that really isn’t what we do in the PR industry. Yes, we try to change reputation and behaviour, but with good ethics and a clear understanding of crisis management this can be done in a transparent and totally ethical way.

In 2015, specialists at the  Reputation Leaders conducted research by asking more than 2,000 people about PR and spin. They found that 70% of people believe that PR is more spin than substance, and over two-thirds of the sample group do not trust PR professionals to tell the truth. This study is now over four and half years old so opinions may have changed, however, for my dissertation I’m going to be studying the current reputation of the PR industry to see how this affects the credibility of communication.

If you’re still confused about what PR is and what PR isn’t, here is a basic summary of what I believe PR to be. PR practitioners cover a whole range of skills and activities, but here are just a few that people seem to forget.

PR is:

  • Changing and managing reputation
  • Building and maintaining positive relationships between an organisation and its stakeholders
  • Influencing change and behaviour
  • Communicating with publics in a transparent and ethical way
  • Producing positive publicity for a client or organisation
  • Effective crisis management

PR isn’t:

  • Spin
  • Propaganda
  • Advertising, marketing or journalism!
  • Just social media

I’m sure there are other misconceptions about the PR industry, but these are the main ones that spring to mind for me.

So, moving forward into the future as the PR industry grows, how can we ensure people truly understand what PR is? Do we need more education in schools and colleges or do we just need people to stop shaming our industry? I would love to hear other people’s thoughts about what can be done to give the PR industry the credit it deserves.

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