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How to Overcome Public Relations’ Bad Reputation

Whether you work in PR or have worked with a PR rep or company, you know all too well the negative sentiment that tends to follow the profession. 

There’s no denying the public relations industry has gained a bad rap over the years. As an industry built on forming and shaping public perception, you would think it would be better at maintaining its reputation, right? 

Wrong.

A recent Gallup survey on Americans’ views of various U.S. industries put the advertising and public relations industry at the bottom of the list — along with healthcare, the federal government, and pharmaceuticals (which says a lot) — with a slight majority of respondents (34 percent) having a negative view of the industry. 

Having worked in the public relations field, I’ve seen this negative impression of PR professionals firsthand (i.e., I’ve experienced my fair share of curt email replies from reporters and skepticism from potential clients). However, there’s hope, as nearly the same percentage of respondents had a positive or neutral view of the communications industry (33 and 32 percent, respectively). 

To overcome PR’s bad rap, we first need to determine the possible reasons behind it. Here’s a look at PR’s reputation with potential clients, the media, and consumers and how to work toward improving it: 

Potential Clients

Current Reputation: Not worth the money. 

While working in the public relations field, I found that many companies needed a bit of convincing when it came to outsourcing PR. This is likely because many businesses still don’t understand the value behind a having dedicated PR team and, therefore, don’t allocate enough of their budget to marketing and PR initiatives. 

To squash this idea of being an unnecessary expense, it’s important to show, not just tell, potential clients the impact a successful PR campaign can have on an organization. This can be done upfront by dedicating a section of your website to your business’ results. These results can take the form of client case studies, various PR metrics (e.g., where your clients have been featured), or a list of well-known clients you’ve worked with. 

Bonus Tip: Refer to the most relevant endorsements, metrics, etc. when creating new client proposals. This way, potential clients can see how you’ve succeeded in similar situations. 

The Media

Current Reputation: Annoying. 

While I now work on the opposite end of things, media relations will always hold a special place in my heart. But if there’s one thing I don’t miss, it’s receiving short and sweet snappy responses from reporters and publication editors.

It’s relatively well-known that the media and public relations professionals don’t always get along. And when you consider the number of PR professionals who send mass email pitches, don’t research a reporter or publication, and incessantly follow up or call, it’s really no wonder why.

The solution here is simple: Ditch the generic pitch. While email templates can undoubtedly save you both time and effort, aim to start every pitch from scratch. Personalizing an email goes beyond changing the email greeting — something most reporters can see right through. Instead, take the time to research a reporter’s beat, the publication they write for, and what they’ve covered recently. In short, make it about helping the reporter, not your client. 

Bonus Tip: Not sure what a reporter will find most helpful? Ask. While you’re not guaranteed a response, some reporters will appreciate the effort to better appeal to their interests.    

Consumers

Current Reputation: Biased and dishonest.

Having been both a PR professional and consumer, I now take top 10 lists, awards, celebrity and influencer endorsements, etc. with a grain of salt. Sure, these could be genuine and well-deserved accolades. But they could just as likely be good PR, and today’s consumer is more aware of this fact than ever before, thanks in large part to the rise of influencer marketing and sponsored content. 

Public relations is all about creating a positive perception, but this should be done authentically. While it might be tempting to submit your client for every award possible in the hopes that one will be fitting, it’s much more impactful to hold out for only the most relevant opportunities. After all, there’s a reason they call it “earned” media. When it comes to PR, less can often be more. 

Bonus Tip: When determining how to best appeal to your client’s target audience, try asking them. Conducting your own research isn’t just a great way to get to know consumers, but also it can serve as valuable data that can be turned into research reports, infographics, and other pitch-worthy items. 

Above all else, today’s clients, media professionals, and consumers demand transparency. Clients want to know where their money is going, reporters want to know that your pitch wasn’t sent to 50 other reporters, and consumers want to know they can trust you. Only then can public relations, as an industry, hope to improve its reputation. 

About Amanda Yello

Amanda Yello is a freelance editor based in Orlando, Florida, where she spends her days doing what she enjoys most (apart from being a mother to her newborn babe and fur baby): reading, creating, and sharing great content.