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6 Common Client Misconceptions About Public Relations

Michelle Garrett

Mar 6, 2020

Public relations is enjoying a bit of a resurgence these days as a method of raising a brand’s visibility.

75 percent of marketers say they plan to increase PR spending over the next five years, says a report conducted by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and the USC Center for Public Relations at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

In spite of this rise in popularity, PR isn’t nearly as effective when a client has misconceptions about how it works.

Here are a few common client misconceptions about PR:

1) PR Works in a Vacuum

Some companies believe they can hire a PR firm to come in and magically wave a wand to get them the visibility they so desperately want. We in PR know it doesn’t work that way. For the relationship to be most effective, the client needs to engage with the agency or consultant. Without input from the client, both proactive and reactive, the effort may not go very far. If you don’t have the time to engage with your PR team, now may not be the right time to engage in a public relations effort. It’s a two-way street – not a one-man show.

2) Results from a Dedicated PR Effort Happen Overnight

In reality, it takes a little longer. As with content marketing, SEO, or any marketing strategy, results from PR can take some time. If a client believes that one press release or campaign is going to blow up and go viral, you may want to direct them to another firm. It takes an ongoing, consistent effort to achieve the kind of results most clients want. Be sure to set expectations up front, so there are no misunderstandings later.

3) PR Results Are Guaranteed

I was talking with a colleague recently who said something along the lines of, “PR is a gamble.” There are PR pros who will tell clients this up front—and some who won’t. Clients need to understand that the results of a PR effort are NOT guaranteed. It’s not like buying an ad, which means you know what day it will appear and what it will say. Because earned media relies on journalists who are pulled in many directions, there’s no guarantee that a story will appear or what it will say. It’s a PR pro’s job to open the door of opportunity for the client. What happens after that is somewhat out of our hands.

“An interview is simply that – an interview. It’s not a promise of a published story,” said Teena Maddox, Senior Writer for TechRepublic,

4) PR Pros Control What Journalists Publish—and When

Yes, per #3, PR can open the door to opportunities—but what ends up in the finished story isn’t up to us. Sources can be cut as a story evolves. Stories can be killed due to breaking news. There are elements of the publishing process that are simply out of PR’s control.

Clients need to understand this, so they don’t enter a PR engagement believing that public relations pros have complete control. We’re on the media outlet’s timeline – not the other way around.

5) Clients Just Sign off on What PR Pros Provide

This goes back to engagement. If a PR pro sends a client a document, he or she expects feedback – not only approval with no comments. This happens far too often. It makes us wonder, “Did the client even read what we wrote?”

Clients need to invest the time to read what we send and provide input. Or sometimes, we may need to bounce ideas around. Or we may want the client to proactively send us an industry article they saw that might pertain to an angle we may be thinking of pitching.

The point is, a healthy relationship should go beyond rubberstamping what the PR team provides.

6) PR is Very Different to Marketing

Before digital media, PR and marketing were classed as separate departments with their own goals and practices - but those days are over. The lines between PR and marketing are blurring and the departments are slowly becoming one. It makes sense, after all, PR and marketing are forms of brand awareness, as such, this is a goal that is shared by both teams. PR doesn't work in isolation, so neither should PR pros. In order for PR campaigns to be a success, they need to approach with omnichannel marketing in mind.

Dispel Client Misconceptions About Public Relations with Education

PR can do wonders for a company that’s ready to engage and understands the value PR can provide. For the best success with your clients, be sure to have an open dialogue and educate them about what PR is—and what it isn’t.

Even if you can’t ensure clients have suitable expectations of what PR brings to the table, you can ensure that you’re up on industry expectations of a modern PR pro by downloading our ebook on the topic.