The PR Industry’s PR Problem

The block letters PR sitting on newspapers

“That article about my campaign is great,” a client said to me recently. “How much did you pay for it?”

I was staggered by the question, and fully admit I didn’t respond as professionally as I should have.

“We’re doing public relations,” I said, my bewildered expression filling the Zoom screen. “We don’t pay for articles.”

The client in question is Chief Marketing Officer for his company with a solid background in digital media and advertising. He had also enthusiastically sought out my agency to handle the PR efforts for his company’s new technology launch. How was it possible he didn’t grasp the most basic element of earned media?

Sadly, this is not an isolated incident. In more than thirty years of working in public relations, I’m no longer surprised by the number of people—including many partners in marketing and advertising—who are mystified by what it is we do.

A Lack of Understanding

Beyond the endless frustrations this causes PR professionals, I’ve come to realize that this lack of understanding is having a more far-reaching impact. When business leaders, marketing experts, entrepreneurs, non-profit heads—and many, many others who could benefit from PR—don’t know what it is, then they can’t use it in the right way.

I’ve recounted the above interaction with my CMO client to friends and colleagues working in PR, and each time I’ve gotten a similar story in response. Agency folks, like me, talk of clients and partners who dismissed PR ideas that would have resulted in big wins, while those working in-house shared the ongoing barriers they face when trying to collaborate with other departments.

“They don’t get it,” one told me not long ago. “Even the ones who think they do still don’t really understand all the ways my team can be effective.”

Educating our Partners

Imagine if this were different. Do we dare dream of a world where PR is as familiar to people as advertising? One in which we start conversations with business leaders and partners who already grasp the value of our work, and the potential it brings to what they’re trying to achieve?

At my agency, we’re tackling this head-on. In addition to the publication of my book that directly answers the many questions and confusions around PR, we are dedicating ourselves to the education of our clients. Despite the extra effort required, we start each new engagement with a client training course that details what our work will entail, with a deep dive into exactly how it happens.

It’s been so well-received—even by clients with a marketing background—that we’ve developed additional modules and add-ons. In fact, most of the clients who complete our courses request a take-away version that can be shared with their internal teams. This delights us because we know that we’re creating even more advocates for our work, and our industry overall.

It also gives me hope. Now that I’m witnessing the willingness of others to better understand PR, how it works, and the many ways it can make them more successful, I’m seeing the opportunity for everyone in PR. After all, we’re expert communicators, writers and storytellers. I believe that with our combined effort to inform, educate and demystify, maybe we can finally shine a light on our industry and solve our own PR problem.

Amanda Proscia, co-founder of Lightspeed Public Relations and Marketing, is the author of "PR Confidential: Unlocking the Secrets to Creating a Powerful Public Image."