PR – let’s be rid of it

I read an interesting post recently on the Spinsucks website that criticised the PR profession for focusing so much on media relations.  It’s a good read and well worth a visit if you have the time.  I’ve made the point on this blog, often, that public relations is much more than media relations.

DSC_1410-askThis particular post, however, made me think.  If PR professionals pigeon-hole themselves as being just about media then what hope is there for educating clients, and the wider public, about the role PR can play?  It’s just one of the reasons I think the term ‘PR’  should be scrapped.

PR is misunderstood and outdated

We really have to ask whether the term ‘PR’ is fit for purpose.  I think, probably not because:

  1. There is much confusion about where social media fits and how traditional PR dovetails with that.  You ask 10 different people and you’ll get 10 different answers about the role of the PR professional in contributing to, and delivering on, a social media strategy.
  2. The abbreviation ‘PR’ is often misunderstood to mean press relations or even press release and that doesn’t help in trying to steer people away from the idea that PR = media relations.
  3. The PR profession must have one of the poorest reputations by far – with many people dismissive of the role in itself and any value it could bring.  The term is synonymous with ‘spin doctor’, an unfortunate legacy from the 1980s.  For a profession that is all about reputation and profile it is worrying that you still see PR professionals using the word ‘spin doctor’ as if it is a badge of honour.  Let’s be clear, it’s not and never has been.  Continuing to use the term does no good whatsoever for anyone.
  4. The role of a PR professional, agency or department is widely misunderstood.  I find it interesting in forums, and on discussion boards, that people describe PR as being about ‘the glossy’ stuff and see it as something that is wasteful rather than contributory.  The profession, as a whole, has a responsibility to change that.

PR needs re-positioning

I know I’ve had discussions with friends, and relatives, where they have questioned why clients pay the money they do for professional PR advice and support.  I always describe my PR career as moving from working in fast food and fast cars to what has been, for me, more meaningful work by specialising in health and care.  That work hasn’t been glossy.  It’s helped to communicate important health messages and encourage people to make informed decisons about their health and care.  It’s helped organisations put their views across in the way that their key audiences (see PR glossary) understand and it’s facilitated joint working and garnered support.

You may not think about it but, the truth is, you are doing PR each and every day.  It isn’t about talking to journalists or having profile in the press and media.  Quite simply, PR is about communicating with the audiences that matter to you and there are very many ways in which you can do that.  So, I’m all for scrapping the term ‘PR’.  I guess the question is – what do we use instead?

In a nutshell: PR is much more than press and media relations.  It’s all about communicating with the audiences that matter to you.

What are your views about the term ‘PR’ and what people understand it to mean?

Debbie Leven is a PR coach. To see how she can help you improve your PR, and protect your reputation, click here.

Image credit: Debbie Leven

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  1. says

    A thought provoking read.
    There are times when collectively we lose sight of something and perhaps it begins to lose it’s mystique and certainly it’s value.

    The PR industry as you point out does have an identity crisis and odly no-one has noticed. They also have a problem with the internet as most website owners myself included see PR – Press Releases as being something which in the past I have done because of the potential SEO benefits. I also write Press Releases for Public Relations purposes to communicate a message at times when I have something important to say, but frankly I’m just looking for better quality SEO.

    And that is how PR has lost it’s value, because it’s become a vehicle to build SEO and as such people issue Press Releases about anything.

    PR Public Relations needs to reclaim it’s name and purpose which has been hijacked by all the website owners and SEO’s out there.

    Old school PR people also need to wise up generally as do many old school marketing people. We now live in a digital age and if I pay for PR I would want and expect that to include old style Public Relations and a very healthy mix of new style SEO focussed Press Releases. I also expect marketing people to have a good grasp of online marketing it’s not a different discipline, it’s just another part of the job.

    A provocative tip for anyone looking to hire PR and Marketing people is this, check to see if they have a twitter account (preferably they should tweet themselves) , because if they don’t there’s a fair chance they won’t know where to put your Press Releases to make best use of them SEO wise,

    I’m sorry Debbie, the internet and people who DIY cheaply because they are only thinking about SEO are doing their best to kill your industry. Or perhaps the internet is just catering for the bottom end of the market,

    When a business drops a clanger that’s when they most need Public Relations people to smooth things over.

    Good post and sooo much to discuss there.

  2. says


    Thanks for the comment. You make some really interesting points. I think that seeing SEO in a bubble is an issue and that PR and marketing need an integrated approach to really make an impact. I agree that many people think ‘profile’ with SEO and ‘reputation’ when it comes to crisis management but that is a missed opportunity and a false economy too. The best time to plan for a crisis is when you don’t have one. But, often, people don’t realise that until everything has gone pear-shaped.

  3. says

    The other issue is what we do is not tangible. You know, instinctively, whether or not it works, but there isn’t anything to actually hold in your hands. That’s why I think so many people outside and inside the industry point to media relations – you can say, “Oh my PR team got that story in the NY Times for us.” It’s tangible, which helps people understand what it is we do. So many times, when we’re at our very best, it’s around something no one ever hears about because it was a well-managed issue that never became a crisis or because we created a reputation out of nothing.

  4. says


    Thanks for the comment. That’s a very good point. I think that there is also something around the instant gratification that media relations seems to bring – a press release goes out and interviews/coverage results. For a lot of people that seems to equate to success without, necessarily, seeing it as part of the bigger picture or within the context of what they are setting to achieve.

  5. says

    A good post, but it’s not the word that’s the problem — it’s the work. The reason that some people have a negative perception of the profession is because they’ve had a bad experience with it and that’s what needs to change. Even if all the PR people in the world decided at once to give up using the term “PR”, it wouldn’t matter because the world uses it and will use it for the foreseeable future. Better to focus on each and every one of us doing the very best possible work so that when the profession’s “brand” is used, it means something positive to the members of business community we serve. Also, PR people need to stop being so damn insecure all the time. (In front of a mirror) PR is valuable, PR is valuable, PR is valuable. You’re good enough, smart enough and your clients like you. Now…get back to work!

  6. says

    Thanks for commenting Scott. Bad experiences will always be damaging for the industry as a whole, you can never get away from that. But, I’ve found too, in initial discussions with potential clients, that some tend to just focus on media relations. As PR professionals we must work with them to help them understand the wider role PR has to play. Media relations isn’t the starting point – it’s just one of a number of tools to help achieve your objectives.