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To PR or Not to PR: PR is Not a Verb!

This is not an article debating the changing landscape of the public relations or advertising industry, or preaching best practice advice, but rather it’s an examination of the two simple letters that encompass everything communications professionals do: PR.

As a public relations professional, I respect that there are some commonplace misconceptions about what we do at our agency, and likely every other PR agency on the planet for that matter. The perception of what we do is made worse by certain reality television shows that not only make me want to claw my eyes out, but insult my intelligence and profession as well. There is a significant difference between a PR firm and a publicist – which allows me illustrate my point: all publicity is PR, but not all PR is publicity.

But, on the point of publicity, there are some novel notions that I’m able to write off in good humor, including some personal favorites related to the mystique and glamour of the industry, and the all-too- frequent assumption that all story placements occur with the drop of a hat thanks, of course, to that magic PR wand we are all given upon entering into the field. Why yes, whatever story you’d like to have placed, just call me and I’ll get it in – I have a direct line. When clients tell me they need me to get them in the paper tomorrow, I quickly grab my ski mask and advise them to meet me at the nearest bank. I find running naked through the streets is also helpful – and strangely so is shaving off your hair, but I digress. If only it were that simple to secure press, but I know a few tricks and have certainly been successful at securing solid placement, even in the absence of a quality story.

But.

One, seemingly minor but infinitely irritating thing I’ve been asked to do has always left me without a witty comeback. The infuriatingly mind-numbing question: “Can you PR this?”

Even my own mother, who, upon hearing about one exciting upcoming project or another, has suggested that I do a good job of “PR-ing” for the client. Imagine someone asking a Web developer to “Web site” something. Hmmm…

PR is just not a verb, but it is certainly is an ongoing action. The ongoing action of relating. The “ing” does work with advertising – I guess that’s why that discipline and tactic is so much simpler. I suppose for starters, I should thank my mom for reminding me to do my job by….doing what I do for a living, but I’ll never understand why she and so many others make those two letters into a verb.

Write it out. “Public Relations-ing.” Is that what we do every day? Sadly, I think when some people mention PR, they aren’t even referring to public relations, but instead are referring to a Press Release – which also makes no sense – “can you Press Release this?”

This simple mistake is one that frightens me. To me, the “PR-as-a-verb” phenomenon signifies a lack of understanding of the fundamentals of our industry and mitigates the value of our strategy by implying that we exist solely to “get stories in the paper.” If that were true and that’s how it worked, think about the media landscape for a moment. Every story in every media outlet would be about a PR firm, right?

Of course, this isn’t to say that “PR-ing” doesn’t have its place. Publicity, as we pros call it, is undoubtedly a great vehicle for interesting characters and stories, but in no way does it fully encompass the full extent of public relations. Publicity is also not the same as media relations – in fact, I work with some businesses to keep them OUT of the media or to simply maintain good relationships when confronted with an issue (we call this “closed shop media”). So again, publicity is part of media relations which is part of public relations. Advertising is part of public relations. How you were greeted by your waitress today is public relations.

And while we’ll always recognize that publicity is a key component of any good marketing campaign, for an agency or practitioner’s abilities to be equated solely to publicity is a waste of good counsel. You need a great story, a good hook, proper timing, tenacity, the contacts and yes, a little luck. A good stunt now and again is fun, as is a press release duct taped to a pizza and sent to the newsroom.

Admittedly, this is just a minor rant from a word junkie hooked on technicalities, but it serves as a reminder to us, the PR-ers of the world, of the need to explain the foundations of our practice which we so often take for granted. Just as we tell our newbies that Public Relations is far more than event planning, we must also ensure that our clients recognize that what we are doing is communicating,

So, don’t confuse PR with publicity. You don’t ‘ing’ PR. But, done right, we promise to sING your praises to your publics and get the phones to rING with leads, and if someone dINGs you in cyberspace we’ll be sure to brING out a little PR magic.


Allison Brinkman is a Public Relations Manager at Eisen Agency. She is available on Twitter @abrinkman.

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