Myths and Misconceptions about Public Relations and PR Professionals


I was at a wedding in Chicago over the summer and someone approached me and asked what I do. When I said that I work in public relations, the person looked me straight in the eye and said “Oh, you’re one of THOSE people.”

Some people say that you can never please everyone and you’ll always be misunderstood by someone. This statement definitely holds true for public relations professionals. Some call us spin doctors while others call us media flaks. Either way, they’re wrong. Often times I am amused at the conversations my colleagues and I have about what people think of our profession. 

Here are a few myths and misconceptions (as well as facts) that will hopefully clear things up!

It’s ok to not invest in PR if the organization is in a financial crunch.

Bill Gates once said, “If I was down to my last dollar, I’d spend it on public relations.” In recent years, there have been organizations that have opted to dismiss their public relations counsel during poor economic times. Business influencers fail to realize that building relationships with key stakeholders (i.e. government, media, shareholders, customers, suppliers, employees) will keep the organization’s message at the forefront. This will also enhance their position in the market as thought leaders and possibly revenue generators. Furthermore, making your business visible during poor economic times makes sense. While other businesses are making cut backs, your message makes it to the front! If a business wants an advantage over its competitors, it’s critical its message is visible during the recession. 

Traditional media is not as important as social media.

Despite waning advertisers and cuts in reporting staff, the written word has impact – even if it is online. According to a survey conducted by Scarborough Research, 79 percent of white collar workers, 82 percent of adults with household incomes of $100,000 or more and 84 percent of college graduates or advanced degree holders read online or print newspapers. Social media has its benefits as it engages consumers with interaction, accessibility and immediacy. However, saying that one is superior than the other is a far-fetched statement. Both mediums can and should be used together for an effective PR campaign.

Everything is newsworthy.

Good public relations professionals are media experts, and if the expert says that there’s a chance a particular topic won’t get covered, then it probably won’t. And even if something is newsworthy, there is still no guarantee it will make the news. Recently, I was pitching a story on a medical breakthrough only to have my story overshadowed by other current events. Luckily, some great print and broadcast hits came out of the medical breakthrough story. Sometimes other news items take precedence over your particular item – it’s no one’s fault, just the nature of the beast. This brings me to the last myth…

Public relations professionals control the media.

We do not control or “spin” the media. Covering or not covering a story, whether it is positive or negative in nature, is strictly the media’s prerogative. Honest public relations professionals will never guarantee that something will be covered or not covered. I’ve seen reporters get excited about a story that ends up pushed to the wayside because of breaking news or a story that their editors would like covered first. Even if the client has been interviewed by a journalist, or a television crew has shot the entire story, there is no way to tell if it will run. On the flip side, I have also experienced times where a reporter initially says no to covering a story and then they call out of the blue saying they are interested.

Do you have some myths and misconceptions you’d like to add? Please list them here.