PR professionals often get asked this one question. What is that you do in PR? If you say engage with media, people start looking for your byline in papers! Companies expect a jump in sales the moment a story comes out and some are just plain confused about PR!
Our PR folks out in the trenches share the most far-out query they have received as a PR professional along with some common myths about PR.
What do dogs have to do with PR!
Among the most unusual stories this reporter has heard about PR misconceptions comes from Sanjay Gora, assistant general manager with steel behemoth SAIL.
He says, " I once got a call as a junior manager, PR way back in 1998. I had joined Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) Rourkela Steel Plant in Odisha. A girl in her preteens called from one of the houses in the steel township. She asked, "Is it the PR department?" When I said yes, she said, "There is a dog lying dead in front of our house. Can you please do something about it?" I did do something after having a good laugh, as I connected her to the right department. But that memory is still very much alive even after over two decades."
Why am I not on the front page of ET?
A common misconception about PR faced by Debomita Deb, account director & VP (Network Operations) at Simulations Public Affairs Management Services is that "Every client is of the opinion that their event is important enough to be carried on nothing less than the front page of newspapers. They also are under the impression that this is exactly the purpose they have hired PR agencies."
Kulpreet Freddy Vesuna, founder and managing director, 'Impact PR' too faces this challenge, "Once hired a PR agency, the clients expect that their news would be covered every day on page 1 or cover page by all leading publication with a guarantee of date and size."
Vesuna says that "I addressed this by educating the client on the impact of earned media vs paid media."
Saraswathi Mohan, communications manager, IBM India agrees with the first-page story syndrome in communications saying the feeling is that "A PR person can get a story in any paper and in fact, can get front-page story regularly. What people don't understand is not every news merits coverage and getting a front-page story takes time to build. It depends on the content, topic, relevance, and interest of journalist and readers which defines a storyline."
Mohan adds, "People most of the time think PR is about paid work. They struggle to differentiate between an editorial and advertorial opportunity."
Nope, it's not the same as marketing!
Another common myth is that PR should deliver the same results as marketing.
Sumeet Saurabh, lead for Global Alliances at 'The Pivotals', says, "PR and Marketing are not the same! The objective of PR can't be mapped against the objectives of a marketing campaign because the cost and output in both are vastly different. We address this by aligning the expectations of the client while taking the mandate and explaining that the primary objective of the PR campaign is to enhance the brand and not sales."
Venkat Raman, lead - PR and corporate communication, HDFC securities Ltd says, "In many companies, PR is seen as a support function which normally is not considered to have a direct impact on sales. It is mostly perceived as a reputation management engine mostly handy for crisis management and providing organization voice to the media."
But, Raman, adds, "From the brokerage industry point of view, whatever research reports and views we are sharing with the media on stocks and other industry movements, work as 'Call to Action' for readers - which result in business for the company. The key for us here is - strategic placement. Once the content is placed in the areas having maximum impact, the probability of business increases as such exposures inspires viewers and readers to take tangible actions."
PR is just a cost centre
Sanjay Gora shares that a common misunderstanding is that, "PR basically means careless and useless spending. We countered it by being one of the first PSUs in the country to introduce the concept of a media buying agency in a Public Service Undertaking (PSU) firm. SAIL has been making crores of rupees in recurring annual savings since then. Our point was made internally too."
Gora adds, people also believe, "PR works in its own silo, disconnected from the other functions. Here too we introduced the concept of using company sponsorships for crowdsourcing solutions to existing challenges be it in branding, marketing, hr or operations."
There is no 'typical' PR person
The myth of the smooth-talking PR pro persists.
Raheel Zahedi, senior manager corporate communications – Asia Pacific Region, FIS says, "There is a myth that a PR professional needs to be extroverted to get the job done. However that’s not true, there are other traits that define you as an effective communicator- strategic thinker, a great writer, meticulous learner and a hard worker. Even though one might possess a gift of gab, but that would lead them no further unless they are able to curate a successful campaign."
No, it's not like being your personal assistant!
Perhaps a hangover of the idea of the old-fashioned Bollywood PRO, some still confuse PR with being an assistant and personal manager rolled into one.
Sonam Shah, founder and CEO, Treize Communications says that it still amazes her was the call she received from, "Someone who was looking for a personal assistant or personal manager thinking that's what a PR professional does. When it happened for the first time, yes it obviously seemed weird, and I did not ponder much thinking it to be a one-off.
But this has happened a couple of times later, which once again highlighted the fact that PR, even after being the most sought after tool and fast-growing industry in India, is still not understood."