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Stubborn myths about the PR industry and companies, busted – by Hannah van Otterloo, Senior PR/Marketing Manager, InsideOutPR

Every profession deals with prejudices and misconceptions. As an employee of a PR agency I am subjected to misunderstandings of the industry on a regular basis, which is why I have set some time aside to do some PR for PR. Disclaimer: if you think PR means long lunches, flat-lays and free cosmetics, think again. This article is about me telling you how the industry does so much more than that. I am assuming, that you, my reader, knows the PR-industry is not defined by wrapping samples in pretty tissue-paper with coordinating ribbon. If you do not – the misconceptions below may be a disappointment and hard to comprehend. For the purpose of this article we are mainly looking at one aspect of PR; media relations.

1. PR is a subordinate

Often a PR company is asked to come on board at the end of a campaign to see whether any additional (free) publicity can be generated. This leads to another misconception being “the PR company will get media to write about it”. If the success of the campaign is based off the last-minute engagement and efforts of the PR company, the campaign is not a strong campaign. If you want to maximise the reach of the campaign it is best to have the appointed PR company come on board when the initial plans are made. This way the PR campaign can incorporate and manage the desired message, tone and intention from the beginning – and all external communications/media materials can be aligned strategically.

2. A PR company generates free publicity

Only a few years ago, there was a clear division between editorial and advertorial departments within media outlets. With the rise of internet and social media the pressure of the advertising income is increasing. Traditional media is forced to edit their business models, resulting in publicity being for sale, in addition to the “old-fashioned” editorial. This does not mean that bought media is an ad – as the feature must align with the media outlet, the audiences and the editorial team’s visions. A task that is best to be executed by the engaged PR company, to ensure it aligns with the editorial content and messaging that is structured based off the campaign brief.

3. PR companies always execute the same strategy

Yes, there are agencies that execute campaigns and plans based off “standard” templates or recycle past strategies that have proven successful in the past. However, with over a decade of experience IOPR has never been in a situation where the objectives or brief of a client has aligned with a standard or old plan. In every situation, there is a demand for a customized and tailored approach, in which by proven success, known tools are utilised. The power of PR is to have the capacity to be flexible and utilise the changing circumstances, chances or threats that come up when managing a campaign.

4. PR companies don’t understand the business 

When clients say that their PR company or their past PR agency did not understand the business, they don’t mean the core business of PR or the core business of the client. It often refers to communication and miscommunications that have occurred during the relationship. Having said that it is key for agencies to understand and know the (prospective) client’s business and understand what makes the client tick and what worries them about their company. In our experience by becoming engaged with our clients it means we understand the needs of the client better. The end goal is not always achieving the front page on every state paper. Often the CEO or founders want to strategize to speak to specific stakeholders. Yes, the stakeholders read the paper but they also attend conferences, use online platforms to inform themselves or want to hear from peers about what is trending in their worlds. The choice of a PR agency should depend on the questions they ask, the previous clients they have worked with and the image they portray.

For a recent client, IOPR created a strategy around identifying and engaging Australia’s top entrepreneurs to utilise the client’s products. These collaborations in combination with a well-planned media strategy generated editorial media coverage that in turn benefited the entrepreneurs and their business, therefore being shared on their private and business social media. This is turn, sparked engagement from a wide range of stakeholders and consumers who admire the business personalities and the tools that they utilise.

If your PR agency is not asking questions that make you think “they understand my business” you’re speaking to the wrong team and should re-assess your choice of PR agency.

5. PR companies are annoying and just get in the way (a two-part prejudice) 

With media training courses and “how to write a press release” examples on the internet – some businesses are sceptical about engaging a PR company.  “They just get in the way” and “any company can hire someone to do PR”, are some of the thoughts I have heard first hand. It is a fact that PR advisors have a bigger chance at starting a dialogue with media, especially when there is already a history of successful collaborations over a period of years.

When speaking to a media outlet or a journalist, there are mutual benefits, and this is best managed by an experienced PR company. The client has news to tell and the journalists wants to share news. The aim during media liaisons between a PR advisor and a journalist is for the client’s messaging to be published, however PR agencies also understand that there is a need to bear in mind the journalist needs or wants. This brings me to Part B of this prejudice – journalists think PR agencies get in the way.

In my experience, prospective clients come to us with a prepared press release and “just” want us to issue it to our media lists. These press releases often contain so much unnecessary or borderline advertising content that we spare the journalists from, as a good PR company understands what a journalist desires, to get their story over the line with the editor. PR companies take the time to research the outlets audience and assist in altering the angle of the story to suit.

6. PR companies just send press releases

There are agencies that draft press releases, create one mail merge and send the same e-mail to every media outlet and media contact in the country. But a PR agency that respects themselves and their clients should offer more.

Personalised media pitches, tailored media lists that only include relevant media, 1:1 follow-up with every media outlet, nurtured relationships with journalists and identified opportunities that suit the client and the PR strategy are just some of the services that a competitive PR agency will offer. When it comes to the top tier PR agencies in Australia it is not possible to only send out press releases.

PR agencies research their client’s businesses, we educate ourselves, we research changes in the media landscape, and we keep our media lists up to date and make sure that contacts who have changed jobs or magazines that have been canned are no longer part of a media strategy. We create strategies that incorporate all the objectives of the campaign plan, the product launch, relevant and diverse stakeholders, and the consumers. We also offer support, assistance and management for social media platforms. We are there when there is bad publicity and a spokesperson is required. We assist with bad, negative and rude comments on online platforms. We manage bad publicity and we celebrate the campaign reach and offer guidance and assistance with awards. We can create consumer engagement.