You know what the problem with PR is?

Most PR pros (and firms).

We in the PR industry have done a poor job of defining and promoting what we do.

The term “PR” has become synonymous with “press releases” (easy enough to understand why), “buzz,” “publicity,” and “spin.”

Ugh.

Image: marcelinoportfolio‘s Flickr stream, CC 2.0

What good PR actually entails is a lot more.

It’s understanding who your target audience is, what you’re trying to achieve (be it members, subscriptions, sales, etc.), and then creating and implementing a holistic PR strategy that works towards these ends.

“Press releases” and publicity are just some of the means to these ends. In this world of Web 2.0, those means also include framing messages that resonate with your target customers and reach them directly.

It means figuring out

What your story is,

Why it matters (yesterday Beth Harte took the “why” so far you might not be able to catch it even with a boomerang, with almost all of the variations being questions PR pros should ask, at some point or other),

Who you’re trying to tell it to, and

Where, When and How you’re going to do it.

If you have a media relations background, you’ve already recognized I used the media advisory format just now.

But that doesn’t mean PR = media.

Going battyIt just means I think the media advisory format is one that’s easy to use and understand, and drives the point home, which is why I’ve recently been using it to explain how to set up your measurement program as well.

Those Ws and H go pretty far.

Image: Loozrboy‘s Flickr stream, CC 2.0

In my post over at BNET today, I examine some of the misconceptions surrounding PR especially for entrepreneurs who are told, ad nauseam, that they don’t need to hire PR firms, they can do it all themselves.

Certainly, you could say that I have a vested interest in holding this position, since PR is my business.

But if you’ve been reading me for a while, or have met me offline, or have worked with me, you’ll know that I don’t serve up BS, especially self-serving BS.

(I save that for my dinner parties, where I can mask it with a healthy flavoring of cumin powder and cilantro.)

Looking outward, looking inward

So when PR professionals themselves promote – knowingly or unknowingly – the false perception that “public relations” and “publicity” are synonymous, who can blame entrepreneurs and business owners for not getting it straight?

This was why I was so disappointed in the Mashable article from about a month ago on “the future of public relations and social media” because, despite the word count, quotes from 14 PR pros (some of whom I know and respect mightily), and pretty screen shots, pretty much its entire thrust was that PR = press releases = publicity = PR.

My initial comment there read:

[PR is] about building effective relationships with one’s publics (hence “public relations”) and using the tools and tactics du jour to do so. Publicity, pitching, media relations, yada yada yada are just one part of doing this, i.e. building relationships with the “press” (whatever that terms means today), but that ignores the usually several other audiences an organization usually has. Comprehensive PR takes those audiences into account, formulating and implementing holistic strategies to build and maintain those relationships. That’s what “good PR” has always been, and should always be, about.

By no means do I think media relations has gone by the wayside.

You’re not going to get any “social media killed PR” posts from me (and, in fact, you should read Jeremy Pepper’s excellent post on why, in fact, the press release isn’t dead).

Think PRNewswire, BusinessWire, et al would still be in business if it were so?

But it is not the only game in PR Town.

What, unfortunately, is also not dead is:

the mindset that sending out a press release and pitching a story, no matter how ham-handedly, is the be all and end all of public relations

the assumption that if you can pull together a media list (which is easy enough to do, though it may take you a little more time than it would if you subscribed to a media database) and bang out 400 words that typically include “excited,” “leverage,” “synergize” and “ground breaking,” you are practicing PR

the obliviousness that communication functions such as “internal,” “external,” “social media,” “investor,” and so on are not the whole story (read “practice” in agency speak) in themselves, but different threads of the story you need to tell for your organization… to different people… often in different ways.

That is what needs to die.

Unfortunately, I think it will take a long, long time.

And that is the problem with PR.

Shonali Burke
Founder and publisher of Waxing UnLyrical, Shonali Burke helps smart businesses make bank by taking their communications from corporate codswallop to community cool™. She is also the founder of The Social PR Virtuoso®, which provides online, on-demand training that helps you unleash your inner Social PR superhero. Shonali is mad about ABBA, bacon, cooking, dogs, and Elvis, though not necessarily in that order. Wouldn't you like to be in her kitchen?
Shonali Burke