Brr! This PR blanket isn’t working

Using “PR” as a blanket term can be problematic for several reasons. Unfortunately, it seems like people either associate public relations with specific tactics such as press releases or they think of it as a means to attracting publicity (as in “publicity stunts”) and controlling reputation. Worst of all, public relations is sometimes vilified as “spinning” the news in order to protect client interests. 

Many leading thinkers in public relations research, however, define PR as “the management function that identifies, establishes, and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and the various publics on whom its success or failure depends” (Cutlip, Center, and Broom. Effective Public Relations. 1985). In other words, public relations is about managing relationships, not spitting out generic press releases or creatively explaining why a certain starlet was photographed sans undies.

With this definition of PR, it is easy to see how activities like fund-raising, maintaining a blog, hosting events, or publishing podcasts can all fit under the public relations blanket. Matthew Stibbe, editor in chief of Articulate Marketing, however, does not follow this definition of PR in his recent post “27 Proven Freelance Marketing Tips”on his blog, Bad Language. I was checking out this post in hopes of gaining some advice for marketing myself as a job candidate and potentially later if I start my own business. In his post, he argues that PR “doesn’t work,” along with fancy business cards, cold-calling, and mail shots. He lumps PR – a management function – in with specific tactics. I agree that business cards and brochures can not stand alone as a method of marketing your freelance business. But I found it interesting that Stibbe listed blogging and website maintenance as good techniques but clearly separate from PR. In my Advanced PR Writing class, blogging and social media was the focus of a significant assignment. Why? I think because they are great ways to manage relationships with stakeholders/publics (including potential clients).

In another post from his blog, Stibbe wrote that “PR stands for public relations but it could also stand for press relations.” I disagree, at least with the fact that press relations could explain the entirety of what public relations is. The press is a public and it also provides a vehicle through which messages to other publics can be disseminated. But I do not think that PR practitioners should limit themselves to media relations.

I did get some good advice from Stibbe – I think one of my favorites was number 14: “Your obvious is your talent.” Do what you’re best at and fill that niche rather than trying to wear 20 hats. Lately I’ve been looking at Preston Bailey – the It guy of fabulous wedding and event design (he blogs too!). He started in the event design industry as a floral couturier, but used his talents to build a reputation as one of the world’s leading event designers and a celebrity favorite. His work has inspired me to focus my interests and specific talents: style and design AND strategic, creative thinking and planning AND relationship building.

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6 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    For clarity, I meant that PR – in the sense of hiring a PR company – doesn’t work for freelancers. (I know I’ve tried it.) Blogging is an aspect of PR in the broadest sense but you don’t need to hire someone to do it for you. Just do it yourself and save some fees.

    I’ve had pretty poor experiences with PR firms, both as a client (twice) and as a freelance journalist for five years. My blog is full of the daft and irritating things that PR “professionals” do.

    Having said that, for larger companies PR – in the sense of hiring a PR company – is a sensible strategy. And for almost anyone in business, PR – in your sense of a “management function” – is vital. I’m just not convinced that the right way to do “PR” is always to hire a PR firm.

  2. 2

    I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

    Jason Whitmen

  3. 3

    Sue Massey said,

    I found your site on google blog search and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. Just added your RSS feed to my feed reader. Look forward to reading more from you.

    – Sue.

  4. 4

    […] PR stands for public relations although some seem to think it stands for press relations. Apparently PR doesn’t work and it’s […]

  5. 5

    Sherrilynne said,

    Cutlip was right. So are you.

  6. 6

    I think Matthew is right in respect of how hiring a PR agency is not always the best approach for a sole-practitioner or small business, especially if that agency is only interested in churning out press releases for you – or has a poor reputation themselves with the media.

    When it comes to relationships and managing reputation, when you are a micro-organisation, everything you do and say is part of your “public relations”. Hence, as you both agree, a blog is a vital means of expression of your values, talents, etc.

    At the same time, we sometimes need outside advice to see our own strengths and help focus on building a reputation around our key skills. We can be too close, or self-critical, to recognise what others can see in us.

    I think you are right to focus on understanding your talents and from that you should be able to develop a strategy that helps you achieve your objectives. Good luck.

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