March 18, 2019

Debunking the “Samantha Syndrome” (and other PR Myths)

Common Misconceptions About Modern Public Relations

Posted on March 18, 2019 by anstice communications

A career in public relations sounds glamorous. Images of Samantha Jones from Sex and the City often come to mind—dining at the coolest new restaurants, attending exclusive events, and jetting off to luxury resorts for the weekend. But in the real world, PR can involve connecting with stakeholders, proactively preparing for a crisis, or even sourcing ice-cream trucks in small towns across Alberta.

Modern PR is Hard to Define

Ask 10 different people to define PR and you’ll get 10 different answers. The Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) defines PR as “the strategic management of relationships between an organization and its diverse publics, through the use of communication, to achieve mutual understanding, realize organizational goals and serve the public interest.”

At the end of the day, whether your tactics involve social media, content marketing, or media relations, the endgame remains the same.

“PR people are mostly shown in movies as single, white, middle class, attractive young women. PR women are also usually shown attending parties, drinking cocktails, travelling to exotic locations, and hanging out with celebrities all in a day’s work.” – Dr. Jane Johnston

While our TV counterparts have helped make PR a more widely known profession, they’ve also led to a number of misconceptions surrounding the industry—and the role PR serves in an organization’s success.

4 Common (and inaccurate) Public Relations Stereotypes

Jane Johnston, an associate professor at the University of Queensland in Australia, describes the inaccurate portrayal of PR professionals in the media as the “Samantha Syndrome.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t the only stereotype facing the PR industry. We’ve broken down four other myths to provide a better picture of the value of PR.

1. It’s All Media Relations: It’s true that media relations is a subset of public relations, but there are several tactics that fall under its umbrella. While many people believe that PR is simply writing press releases, organizing press conferences, and speaking to reporters, it goes far beyond that, including, but not limited to:

  • Community Relations
  • Content Creation
  • Event Management
  • Digital and Social Media
  • Crisis Communications

Public relations is about determining your client’s goals and objectives and selecting the right tactics to achieve them, whether it’s reputation, relationship, or task-oriented.

2. Paging All Spin Doctors: One of the oldest and most enduring stereotypes facing PR is the notion that we spin stories in our client’s favour to persuade public opinion. In reality, PR professionals are upheld to a code of ethics to ensure they remain accountable, fair, honest, and transparent.

The introduction of ethics has helped shift public opinion surrounding PR from one of distrust and propaganda to that of a credible, valuable resource and partner able to build relationships and improve reputation.

Ethics are constantly changing to reflect the evolution of PR and the dilemmas that practitioners face on a daily basis. In recent years, the introduction of “pay to play” and pay-promoted, branded content has blurred the line between advertising and news. More than ever, it’s imperative for companies to be transparent with their stakeholders—and PR practitioners can help lead the charge.

3. PR and Marketing, Same Difference: While one’s not more important than the other, and we see many areas of convergence, PR and marketing serve different roles within the marketing communications model. While marketing efforts drive back to sales return, public relations is focused on improving an organization’s overall reputation.

"Advertising is what you pay for, publicity is what you pray for."

How does digital PR and marketing fit into this mix? Digital marketing aims to drive an action from the consumer. Similar to more traditional channels, the function of digital PR is still relationship management, with a strong focus on social media communication.

4. Only Good News is News: One of the biggest myths facing PR is the belief that it only involves sharing the good news and covering up the bad.

But any good practitioner will tell you that it’s all about walking the talk—you generate good news by doing good things. Garnering a positive press mention shouldn’t be the determining factor in whether or not a company launches an initiative or hosts a community event.

Likewise, companies shouldn’t wait until the last minute before enlisting crisis management support. PR pros can help spot and prepare for emerging issues before they become a crisis.

The Power of PR

While it’s easy to see that the public relations industry is still somewhat misrepresented—from the media, likeminded industries, and even our fellow colleagues—the power of PR cannot be refuted, debated, or ignored.

As the media landscape shifts, so must PR practitioners by staying on top of industry trends, adapting content to suit society’s short attention spans, and prioritizing news that can be read on-the-go.

While PR still evokes a glamorous perception, it often requires being in the trenches—both literally and figuratively. Nevertheless, it’s an incredible field for growth and once-in-a-lifetime experiences, whether you’re heading to a construction zone or downtown Manhattan.

Shae Pollock is the Public Relations Manager at Anstice Communications, Canada’s leading full-service communications agency specializing in meaningful growth and FX.

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