why pros don’t just ‘do some pr.’

The field of public relations has come a long way since Ivy Lee virtually created the profession more than 100 years ago. Unfortunately, perception of public relations — and professional communication in general — remains, in large part, in the stone age.

To wit: I frequently field the following types of requests:

Q. Can you do some PR for our speaker?

Q. Can you help us advertise our event?

People asking those questions always want publicity, not PR or advertising. Some helpful definitions on each to differentiate:

Public relations: Planned and coordinated actions of an entity (corporation, organization, etc.) to promote goodwill between itself and various publics, including the community, employees and customers.

Publicity: Information about a person, group, product or event disseminated through various media to gain public attention.

Advertising: Calling public attention to a product, service or need via paid announcements in such media as newspapers, magazines, TV, billboards or the Internet.

Public relations involves actions, moreover the aggregation of actions, to solve a problem or achieve some planned goal. PR tends to include research and a campaign, determining audiences, tactics, media, messages and desired outcomes. It’s a process, not a five-minute task. You don’t just do some PR any more than I would wander into a lab and do some science.

Put another way, public relations can include publicity and advertising, but these are only tools or components of larger PR efforts. Public relations is a field, a skill requiring a certain amount of education/training and best executed with accrued experience. It’s not just cobbling together a news release. Everyone with Microsoft Word may think they can do some PR, but this is as far-fetched as anyone owning Photoshop thinking it automatically makes them an artist.

So with that primer on public relations and communication, here are the correct answers to our previous questions:

Q. Can you do some PR for our speaker?
A. What is he trying to achieve? Or did he run into the audience and bite a VIP and needs image rehabilitation?

Q. Can you help us advertise our event?
A. Sure! How much do you want to spend? And you realize I get 15 percent for handling the account.

Tune in next week when we discuss why The New York Times doesn’t want to run your news release on its front page.

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