Breaking Down PR Clichés and Stereotypes

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Published on January 15, 2019, at 7:47 a.m.
by Gillian Castro.

Public relations … a profession that goes hand in hand with all lines of work, yet at the same time, creates a sense of confusion for those who rely on PR practitioners every day. It is hard for people to understand the everyday tasks of a PR professional if they are not one themselves. This puzzlement with the profession leads to a series of clichés and stereotypes that have branded the industry.

Photo by Roman Kraft via Unsplash

All press is good press
As United Airlines, Facebook, Dove and a long list of other big-name companies know, this is quite possibly the biggest lie out there. Crisis is common whenever a company, or person, is in the spotlight, and it is how that crisis is handled that can make or break a reputation. Crisis management is the key factor in creating good press out of a bad situation, but even with a top-notch crisis management team, the public never forgets a scandal.

This well-known stereotype of the industry is often seen with famous individuals who consistently have their names in the spotlight. Take “Deflategate,” for example. Tom Brady is arguably known as one of the greatest NFL quarterbacks of all time. However, this scandal is now synonymous with the mention of the New England Patriots’ two Superbowl wins following the 2015 public debacle. The multiple game suspensions and public embarrassment following “Deflategate” prove that all press is not good press.

PR means being a spin doctor
“So PR means just spinning the truth, right?” Wrong. This phrase derives from the deceptions of politics in the 1980s in which a political press agent or a someone skilled in public relations would be able to spin an event to best match the point of view from which they wanted their target audience to see it. Anyone in the PR field today knows that being a “spin doctor” is the quickest way to start a scandal, or more likely, the quickest way to lose your job.

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The Public Relations Society of America follows a strict code that highlights the importance of displaying honesty, authenticity and ethics in public relations. As a PR student, the first thing that you learn is that PR is about being ethical. It is a concept reiterated so many times that eventually the thought of public relations professionals being interchangeable with “spin doctors” becomes laughable. Perhaps to make this stereotype more accurate “spin doctor” should be replaced with “sincerity doctor.”

PR means just being good at social media
I’ll be the first one to admit, I fell victim to this stereotype when I started in PR. After four years and many, many hours of writing news releases, pitches and several 30- to 50-page communication plans, I can confirm that PR is not just about being good at social media.

As a PR student, I took my one and only social media class at the beginning of my senior year. This is when I learned that social media was not all VSCO filters and clever one-liners. For PR professionals, social media is about tailoring content to fit a target audience, while also mastering the timing, quantity and outlet for each post. After I created around 100 immensely thought-out social media posts every other day for two months, it became clear that social media for PR is not at the same level as social media for a regular college student.

So are all of these stereotypes and clichés true?
Definitely not. Successful public relations is built on the foundation of honesty, ethics, authenticity and hard work. To continue to break these stereotypes of the industry, PR professionals must set the standard higher for themselves, and those around them, and live by these four pillars of success that have enabled the PR profession to flourish.

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