If you are planning to study mass communication, you’ll probably know that public relations is one of the many subjects you will be dipping your toes in. In fact, you can also pursue this course on its own.
However, how much do you actually know about public relations? How far do the stereotypes and misconceptions go? In this article, we debunk common lies that are being spread about the field of public relations.
#1. Public relations and advertising are the same
If both public relations and advertising are about influencing people to buy something, then they’re technically the same thing, right? Nope! While both of them are used integratively in marketing, there is a huge difference between PR and advertising that many get twisted.
Public relations is a communication strategy to create a positive reputation for a company, manage bad press and generate free media exposure. This can be done through various channels such as press conferences, events and photo releases, just to name a few. Although PR controls the message, they don’t have control over how the public views it.
On the other hand, advertising is responsible for influencing an audience by highlighting the benefits and attributions of a service or product through various channels, often paid. This includes publications (e.g. newspapers, magazines, journals) and media (e.g. TV, radio, online). Since advertising is a paid instrument, companies have complete control over the content, design and execution, guiding what the public should see and how they perceive it.
As the old saying goes, “advertising pays and public relation persuades”.
#2. You have to lie and deceive in public relations
“Ah, that’s just a PR stunt. It’s not true!”
You may have heard of this sentence one too many times when your beloved celebrity is caught in a scandal (Harry Styles and Kendall Jenner, anyone?). While those PR stunts might be designed to generate buzz, the truth is that the public relations field is often about building trust between the company and the public.
Even though gaining publicity is the main goal, public relations still strives to maintain and deliver the company’s objective and vision as honestly as they can. For instance, take a look at Sweden’s “Edible Country” campaign that wowed the world by placing picnic tables in the wilderness with picturesque settings across the country in order to promote healthy eating.
If a PR strategy risks a company to lose the public’s trust, they will lose all footing. That is why good PR is crucial to uphold the reputation of a company and to ensure that any distortion of truth is quickly brought to light.
#3. Studying and working in PR is easy
Sure, public relations may not be as academically rigorous as computer science or electrical engineering but that doesn’t make it “easy”. In fact, it requires a lot of critical thinking and problem-solving!
For starters, a significant part of public relations is crisis management. In today’s world where word on social media can spread rapidly like fire and the public can be quick to judge, you’ll need to be able to manage rumours, misinformation and negative press swiftly and effectively. This can often be challenging, especially when unfair reviews and harsh criticisms tend to propagate much quicker than positive stories.
Therefore, as part of your PR course, you will be exposed to a plethora of communication theories, media writing, crisis management and consumer psychology, all aimed to prepare you for the volatile world of media.
#4. You have to be an extrovert to excel in PR
It is commonly assumed that working in PR entails a lot of socialising, attending event launches and plenty of schmoozing — essentially the ideal career of an extrovert. This is simply not true!
While public relations requires a great deal of networking, it is not exclusively limited to extroverts only. In fact, you will require a different set of skills that are not bound to your personality traits such as excellent written communication skills, having an attention to detail as well as being able to work under pressure.
Being able to adapt and forming a relationship with clients may seem a lot for some of you (yes you, introverts) but this does not necessarily mean being the loudest person in the room. It is all about knowing how to approach people, listening and communicating the right way. Introverts are also often less reactionary, bringing a sense of calm when a crisis happens.
So, if you’re an introvert with an interest in public relations, don’t let this misconception scare you! There is a place for introverts in the diverse world of PR due to their introspective, thoughtful and personal nature.
#5. You will lead a glamorous lifestyle in PR
“OMG, can you get me VIP tickets to that famous premiere?”
“You must be really popular in your circle of celebrity friends!”
“Are you sure you want to do PR? All they do is just party…”
Sorry folks, if you think your life would be half as glamorous and scandalous as Samantha Jones from Sex and The City or Don Draper from Mad Men, think again! PR is not all about sipping champagne and eating fancy hors d’oeuvre at boozy event launches.
While you will be at events socialising with distinguished figures, working an event is not the same as attending an event! You are still an employee rather than a guest, therefore you will be constantly on your feet, whether it’s setting up, managing logistics or making sure the event runs smoothly.
In addition, working in public relations means not being confined to the usual 9-5. You’ll need to keep up with the latest happenings on social media, attend urgent meetings and handle issues and crises at a moment’s notice.
Regardless, public relations is anything but a boring job. This creative “always-on” industry will have you engaging with incredible people and working on inspiring campaigns that will make the experience worthwhile.
There is more to public relations than what you see or hear from others (oh, the irony)! Like the wise words of Bill Gates, “If I was down to the last dollar of my marketing budget, I’d spend it on PR!”