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Edward Bernays would dig me. Seasoned public relations strategist (10+ years in the game) who has practiced PR in multiple cities: Baltimore, Detroit, Chicago & DC. I'm an observationist and a soon to be card carrying member of the Twitterati. I love comfortable silences, revel in the Seinfeldian absurdities of life and have been described as a habitual line stepper. These are my thoughts...

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

PR By Numbers

Public relations is not rocket science. But, by the same token, it’s also not as easy as delivering intra-office mail. The craft of public relations takes talent, knowledge, great instincts and a nose for communicating. So pardon me if I get extremely irritated every time someone belittles my chosen profession or reduces it to a job that anybody with a high school diploma and a copy of “PR for Dummies” could accomplish.

I don’t know about other PR professionals but I take offense with some people who claim to be practitioners (hello Mr. Party Promoter) as well as with those who jump into the PR game on a whim following a career in the media. Now don’t get me wrong, not all media professionals make for bad PR pros. Some of the professionals who crossed over from the media side have turned out to be pretty good in public relations. I’ve actually had the pleasure to meet and work with some of the converts that have made a name for themselves as skilled and knowledgeable practitioners.

But admittedly, it can be a little disconcerting when a person in the media thinks they can do what I do because they get calls and press releases from PR people all day or they think they can pick up the intricacies of PR from a day of job shadowing at an agency (I’ve actually seen this happen twice). In all fairness, I could never do the reverse and go apply for a job as a beat writer with a major daily or as an on air reporter without the experience, training or education (despite the fact that I talk to and deal with reporters everyday).

With that said, imagine the horror I experienced when I saw a press release from a former journalist that started her own PR agency (surprise), announcing the launch of a new and cutting edge service – Do It Yourself Public Relations. Now it wasn’t bad enough that this “PR pro” hopped over to the profession after 15 years as a reporter and editor because, as she put it, she’s “seen her share of press releases – both the good and the bad,” but now she’s trying to convince every John Q. Public with a business that they can do it too. It’s just that easy!

Now this is not the first time we’ve heard of this concept, despite the aforementioned press release positioning it as a new idea. This radical proposal of do it yourself public relations (patterned after the “For Sale by Owner” concept of the real estate industry) was more notably championed by a company called – The PR Store. Under the premise that businesses could do their own PR on a modest budget, The PR Store opened a bunch of locations/franchises around the country (ala fast food chains) that would offer “small business owners an accessible, affordable and effective marketing resource that kept them in control of their marketing without having to do all of the legwork.” They honestly wrote that in their promotional materials for the company.

In actuality, what The “PR” Store boiled public relations down to, was a packet of marketing/press kit materials that you could place an order to have produced by walking up to a counter. In full disclosure, I once applied for a job at their corporate HQ in Charlotte as a Public Relations Manager. I know there’s some irony in that, but I applied for two reasons: one to see if I could possibly affect change from the inside and somehow legitimize their business model and two, to see if I actually could “sell something” I theoretically didn’t believe in. Could I tell the story of an organization that I thought was hurting the profession I love? I never got to answer that question, because I never received an interview.

But back to this concept of do it yourself public relations – I think it’s a mistake (unless you were previously in PR or you have a son who’s a PR pro…hi mom). There’s a reason PR people get paid for what they do…it’s because they have the experience and the know how to get results. As a business owner, you wouldn’t attempt to handle your own legal affairs, or build your own office space or store front, so why would you get out of your lane and do your own PR. There are reasonable ways to contract that effort out to professionals or cost-effectively hire someone in-house to handle that task.

Back to this press release touting do it yourself PR. In the release, it indicates that small businesses don’t have to hire anybody to do their PR but could get the job done by visiting a Web site and getting all the free counsel they could use. If conducting public relations was as simple as this or if it was able to be condensed into one tactic, in some Bizzaro universe I could buy into this. But knowing what I know about the realities and complexities of how an organization communicates and all the different aspects of a business that is attached at the hip to PR, this could never be a winning business model.

In the end, I wish more time had been spent on crafting that press release than on the effort to convince small businesses they can do “public relations” themselves. Clearly, there’s at least one small business that could’ve used the expertise of a seasoned PR pro before distributing a certain press release.


  1. It is frustrating that the perception still looms that PR stands for "press release," and that anyone can be a fantastic PR pro with a few clicks of a mouse.

    I see public relations as an art, or a craft, just like any other field. It involves tools, networks, a great degree of skill in relationship management, writing, etc. It's more than just earning a degree, or taking a few classes, or even reading a book. It takes practice, experience with failures and success, learning, observing. Just like any other profession.

  2. Hi Katy, welcome to the blog!

    When I read your comment, the first comment that came to mind was, "spoken like a true PR pro."

    Thanks for participating and I look forward to your future input.

  3. What an amazing read! Despite only 9 months in public relations field (I'm a recent college grad), I've realized there's more to PR than just the press release and sending out emails. You can send out a million well written releases to every major industry contact and see no results. It's about first establishing yourself, then establishing relationships, placement, maintaining favorable client images, etc. Oh so much goes into PR, but I'm looking forward to learning the ropes. There's an exciting journey ahead of me. I'll keep you posted on it!


  4. @Chocl8fashnista - thank you for the positive feedback and welcome to the profession. The PR industry always has room for those who aspire to be serious practitioners and students of the craft.