Thursday, 10 January 2013

5 Common Misconceptions about PR

Whenever I tell people I'm studying towards a degree in PR I'm met with a rather blank expression.
Largely people think I'm going to end up a PA, but every now and again I get the 'spin' or Max Clifford response.
Today I thought I'd go through the top 5 PR misconceptions I have come across, and hopefully clarify a few things for those of you who maybe don't know what PR is all about.

We all want to be celebrity publicists
Ask people who they think of when discussing PR, 9 times out of 10, Max Clifford is mentioned. I'm not saying some of us don't aspire to work protecting celebrity reputations. Sometimes in PR, keeping a story out of the papers can be seen as good as getting them in, but representing celebrities is not the main focus of PR, nor where I shall be heading in my career!

We lie
It's a common misconception that PR is all about lying to get the public on your side. Whether its after something has gone wrong, or just to change the reputation of an organisation, a lot of people just seem to think the way companies do this is by using PR to lie. Although I'm sure the practice does go on in some parts of the industry, I for one would like to pledge that throughout my pending career in PR I would opt for morals over a job; meaning I would only work for an ethical company. Needless to say, a lot of companies are responsible and ethical now anyway, and so wouldn't need to lie!

Public Relations Practitioner, aka Spin Doctor
I suppose this one is pretty similar to the 'we lie' point, but much more politics based. Another name which regularly pops up in the PR conversation is political aide, Alastair Campbell. Starting life as a journalist and broadcaster, Campbell left journalism to become Tony Blair's spokesperson and helped to coordinate the Labour Party's 1997 Election Campaign which partly lead to the Labour Party's election success.
So when did the likes of Alastair Campbell gain PR a negative name? The infamous 'Iraq War Dossier' failings, the 'weapons of mass destruction' we had been searching for, were apparently not there, they were never there.
Mr. Campbell had put his 'spin' on the dossier to gain the backing to go to war with Iraq.
Not very good reputation for the rest of us honest PR practitioners out there!

I'm unsure if this is just because of my previous occupation, but people always think I'm studying to be a personal assistant. I worked as a receptionist for two years, so I'm guessing people just get mixed up!
Lets clarify the differences,
PR; as defined by the CIPR, "...the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics."
PA; sometimes known as an executive secretary, a PA provides one to one administration support for managerial or directorial staff.

It's all freebies and parties
I have it on quite good authority, that unless you really land on your feet, you're more likely to be stuck taking clippings out of newspapers day in day out than hobnobbing with celebrities at champagne luncheons.
Unless that is, the professionals are just lying to us students and keeping all the parties for themselves?

So PR is about being ethical, and responsible. Often using creative means to get your message across. The use of PR should not be to deceive the public - the company shouldn't have to!

I hope I've given you an insight into the realm of Public Relations, next time someone asks, you'll know exactly what to say!

Melissa x


  1. Nice Post -
    I worked in public relations in the Construction industry for a decade and I could count on one finger the number of glamorous events I was invited to in a year.

    One point to consider - the CIPR code of conduct provides support for your own moral compass. If, during your career, you are being asked to carry out tasks you believe are unethical and which are against the principles of the code of conduct, you should push back against it with confidence that your professional body will support you if your interpretation is correct, and we are here to help and advise.

    1. Thank you for reading and for the advice! I'll be sure to keep it in mind.

  2. Nice post, Melissa! what uni you at? I also did a PR degree, actually when I went into it I didn't know so much about this 'perception'. Now I work in digital communications, I still do 'PR' but try and steer away from classifying myself as such.

    I said to someone the other day, I am a marketing and communications professional. My theory is, people label PR, in business we are all individuals and my advice is to work on your personal brand and reputation, get than right and you show that you are a good 'PR'.


    1. Hi Aimee, I'm studying at Sheffield Hallam. I'm hoping to create quite the brand out of my blog, so hopefully my reputation will follow!
      Thank you for the advice

  3. To be honest, a lot of the entry level PR roles these days unfortunately seem to have an overlap with being a PA in my opinion. Sad but true. When you get to the stage of picking graduate schemes always ask about the diversity of the work.

    Will start following this blog :-)

    1. Thank you for the advice, job variety will be something I'm keep in mind!

  4. Melissa, a simple & excellent post!

    I was & still smiling as I write this comment, when I read 'blank expression'. I recall the bare looks after I replied 'I ‘am studying PR & Comms.' followed by long silence waiting for me to explain myself, now I will forward your blog link to them. :-)
    I certainly will share this on my site, blog & LinkedIn.