Changing Perceptions of a Misunderstood Profession

The negative and often misunderstood perception of public relations professionals and the entire industry has been a thorn in the industry’s paw for decades. We’re managing the reputations and images of clients we represent, but what’s being done to change the negative perceptions of our own industry?

The C-suite is beginning to realize the value of public relations toward the overall success of an organization. We have a seat at the table, but we need to prove we deserve to be there and demonstrate how important the communications function is. If we want the respect we deserve as a profession, we need to take our education and training and use it to improve our own profession’s reputation.

The negative views of our work were molded by the media, Hollywood and unethical practices over the years. There’s are common misconceptions about what we do as PR professionals. We’re not all publicists doing damage control for celebrities and other public figures. We don’t lie. We dont spin the truth.

Our work is very strategic, and much of it involves building better relationships between organizations and the public.

If we’re hoping to improve our industry’s reputation and gain trust and respect among the public, we must:

  • Highlight and enforce our Code of Ethics to ensure the profession continues to be positively perceived in the eyes of the public.
  • Change the stigma of PR pros being flacks or spin doctors. Transparency and openness is crucial toward the success of our profession for the long term. Make people aware of our practices and try to educate and inform.
  • Practice Corporate Social Responsibility by supporting communities and people we work with. These good deeds humanize our industry and make it clear that philanthropy, not profit, is at the heart of what we do.
  • Use appropriate measurement standards to tie in PR plans and strategies to the bottom line of a company. Use data and analytics to show the value of PR programs and how they contribute to business goals.

This is clearly not an extensive list, but surely a good approach toward a new direction for this industry. The work we do for clients is invaluable, and good practices, ethics and deeds will help change the perceptions of a misunderstood profession.

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Brands Need to Engage With Audiences on Social Media

Two weeks ago, I sent a tweet to the PRWeek twitter account asking if they had plans to improve the sound quality of their weekly podcasts. Weeks went by with no reply, and my inquiry remained unanswered. We work in an industry that stresses the importance of audience engagement and participation, and as a fan of PRWeek’s content I felt unimportant when my simple question went unanswered.

Social media transformed the PR industry in many unique ways. Never before have we been able to reach audiences in a space where everyone can share content, ideas and opinions with friends, family and complete strangers.

It’s been an absolute game changer in this profession. This experience made me realize that some companies and organizations don’t place enough value on social media and how a short response can create a lasting impression on someone. It’s time consuming for social media managers to sift through each individual twitter mention and send replies, but going the extra mile ensures people will remain loyal to your brand and feel valued as a fan and consumer.

What people want is a sense of belonging and knowing their concerns are being heard. Social media is an effective customer service tool, and brands need to effectively moderate their channels to participate in discussions, answer questions and remain engaged with your brand and its fans online.

Digital Media and Its Influence in Public Relations

Social media users have seen a significant change in the way they are able to carry out public relations practices. Social media outlets are interactive and two-way; two important characteristics of effective communication between a client and the public.

Organizations use social media to increase interactions with publics through a steady flow of inputs and outputs (Sundar, 2007) toward mutually beneficial relationships (Yang and Lim, 2009 S.-U. Yang and S. Lim, The effects of blog-mediated public relations (BMPR) on relational trust, Journal of Public Relations Research 21 (2009), pp. 341–359. Full Text via CrossRef | View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus (5)Yang & Lim, 2009).

The profession of public relations strives on truthful communication and a conversational atmosphere. This is what social media outlets provide. Users can talk business while being able to communicate in a manner that is less formal. Jargon and formal conversation may suggest to a client that there may be a motive involved.

A study that was conducted mentioned the impact that Twitter had on relief efforts after a massive earthquake in the country of Haiti. Many of the Twitter posts relayed a powerful, personal message. They were not even promotional or financially motivated but inspiring posts that brought our country to Haiti’s aid.

Social media outlets like Twitter are being commonly used in public relations practices. The posts are short and very personal, which give the public a sense of commitment and human interaction. Twitter is more than a message engine—it is a platform for social connection and promotion. It’s interactive and conversational which are driving forces in public relations.

Socially distributing public relations: Twitter, Haiti, and interactivity in social media Original Research Article
Public Relations Review, Volume 36, Issue 4, November 2010, Pages 329-335
Brian G. Smith

How the Public Views Public Relations

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Tennessee found that public relations has been portrayed negatively by media outlets over the years. This can ultimately have a negative impact on the credibility of the entire profession.

Negative stereotypical themes have continually discredited everything good public relations can do for an organization. Media has been known to portray the profession as damage control specialists and slacks who are spewing lies and working with no moral backbone. The reality is quite the opposite. Without trust and transparency, public relations would not be the thriving industry it is today.

Public relations is of great value to society, and the perception of this industry has changed drastically from what it once was. Academic studies focused on 84 different articles that contained the term ‘public relations’. These articles made negative remarks about the profession and portrayed public relations as an attempt to hide or disguise the truth. Spin doctors are a thing of the past.

Studies also found that media definitions for public relations matched the standard PRSA definition only about five percent of the time, and public relations was portrayed negatively 85 percent of the time.

Candace White and Joosuk Park, University of Tennessee researchers, conducted a phone survey involving over 400 people, and found that the public’s view of public relations is not simply damage control, or that they disguise the truth. What may be the most beneficial for the practice of public relations is to focus on how organizations view the profession, and what can be done to enhance the legitimacy of the profession.

Public perceptions of public relations Original Research Article
Public Relations Review, Volume 36, Issue 4, November 2010, Pages 319-324
Candace White, Joosuk Park
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