What PR is... and what it isn't

“I want to land a hit in the New York Times in the first month.”

“I want to go viral.”

“I need to generate more backlinks.”

These are a few of the goals we hear from prospective clients perhaps a little more than we’d like. It’s good, of course, to have lofty or ambitious goals, but understanding the time, cost and role of a PR team in accomplishing each is important before you sign a retainer.

We see many of these misconceptions during negotiations or in RFPs. In many cases, misunderstandings are evident in the goals potential clients have outlined for their PR team. With that in mind, we’ve listed some of the most common misconceptions we encounter—as well as how to correct them, because everyone benefits from transparency and realistic expectations.

PR is not marketing

While marketing has its own textbook-sized definition, it can still be confused with PR when, in reality, the two couldn’t be more juxtaposed. In many respects, marketing is paid and owned media: ad buys—a loose function of marketing—web copy, sales enablement materials like white papers, commissioned studies, etc. Conversely, PR is primarily earned media—company profiles in high-impact publications, op-eds in trade journals, executive features, etc. While marketing and PR are adopting characteristics from the other—PR teams often promote their content marketing capabilities, for instance—the two still by and large serve different functions.

PR is not sales

Your PR strategy can’t and shouldn’t be the only thing that drives sales. While PR is an irreplaceable component of a sales strategy, it can’t be the sole lead driver for your brand, and should sit alongside an informed and connected sales team, a comprehensive digital marketing campaign, a thoughtful social media strategy and strategic ad buys. PR can carry customers to different layers of the sales funnel, but it starts at the top with awareness.

PR is not backlinks

Gaining more website traffic is one of the most common goals for any business. Your company is looking to PR as the primary means of increasing awareness, building brand equity and establishing or maintaining reputation. In recent years, however, securing backlinks in media placements has been the core success metric for many companies.

This mindset fundamentally misses the point, and asking reporters for backlinks is dangerous. As Red Fan president and founder, Kathleen Lucente, wrote in a Forbes piece earlier this year: “Making such a request can often backfire, as it sends the wrong message. It could suggest your company is mainly interested in the link, not the journalistic coverage itself. It might alienate the writer, who may see the query as intrusive — akin to asking her to doctor a direct quote — jeopardizing the potential for a beneficial media relationship down the line.”

Instead of predicating success on backlinks, executives should encourage their PR and marketing teams to identify creative ways to redistribute, repurpose and promote content across channels. Similarly, PR and marketing should be working closely with sales teams to identify the content that resonates with target audiences, keeping the feedback loop open between all three to maximize a communications campaign’s impact.


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