Studying and interning in public relations, it has become apparent that a majority of people who don’t actually have interest in the career have no idea what it’s about. I’ve heard everything from, “You guys are like publicists, right?” to “So, you just do damage control?” Some of these statements are partially true, but holistically inaccurate. Since there are so many misconceptions about public relations, it could be beneficial to dedicate the time to debunk several of the more popular myths.
The most common myth is that public relations practitioners are paid liars. Lying is not exclusive to public relations, nor is it a part of the protocol. Public relations specialists get an unfair reputation linked to dishonesty for the sole fact that it is a people-based occupation. This is a profession governed by a code of personal ethics. In this particular field, it is the hope that whoever the representative, they will conduct themselves in such a way that is demonstrative of their standard of character. Unfortunately, there are dishonest people out there, and they can be found in any profession. It is simply more transparent in public relations, where personal ethics are at the forefront of every decision.
Relating to the aforementioned reputation of lying is the idea that public relations practitioners are “spin doctors.” The job of the public relations professional is one that is rooted in extracting the positives from situations. It is about building the images of the clients, which means putting all of their best qualities on display. Take commercials for example – you don’t expect an advertiser to only tell you the consequences of using their product. The purpose is to show the superiority of the product. The difference between public relations and advertising is that public relations works with people, not products. Is an advertiser a spin doctor for wanting you to like their product? Of course not! A concept that beautifully sets the stage for the final myth…
…Public relations seen strictly as a venue for damage control when things go awry. While that is definitely located in the job description, the professionals prefer to operate proactively. This is key to ensuring damage control won’t take place unless absolutely necessary. Public relations does not have to be related to crisis to be useful. Any public relations professional will attest to the concept that it is preferable to produce an image than to repair it. Our job is to set clients up for success by anticipating the tweaks that their images need.
I’m certainly not here to whine about how misunderstood we are as professionals. It comes with the territory, and it’s nothing new to the field of PR. But it’s more desirable to lay out all of the information to hopefully lead the ill-informed to a more educated conclusion. After all, even public relations professionals need a little bit of positive representation.