Stop Saying PR is Public Relations

March 12, 2009
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In the wake of a blog post yesterday by Seth Godin about the distinction between publicity and PR; that publicity is the art of transferring an idea into ink and PR is the art of crafting a story that other people can retell in their own words, I’d like to tangentially remind you that PR […]


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PeopleIn the wake of a blog post yesterday by Seth Godin about the distinction between publicity and PR; that publicity is the art of transferring an idea into ink and PR is the art of crafting a story that other people can retell in their own words, I’d like to tangentially remind you that PR is not about public relations.

Not really.

I refer you to bold words last November by David Mullen that the “P” in Public should stand for People.

Yes, I know that “public” refers to groups of people, but that still feels a bit cold to me. This is more about changing our mindset, for those of us who need it. People expect more personal relationships and one-to-one conversations. People want to share their dreams and fears. People want to be heard. People want connections.

Upon reflection, I can’t agree with him stronger.

If David is correct that PR is strategically centered to leverage connections between people and their brands, then shouldn’t the art of those relations be about people? I think so.

Reading references to Seth Godin’s PR-publicity distinction, such as Dave Fleet and Urban Johansson, I question why everyone isn’t using the same terminology.

Urban says it best (bold styling by me):

For me to care about what you have to say I either have to have established some sort of relationship to your product or be in acute need of that product. Marketing can drive to create that need or to make that relationship but putting ink in the paper is not the goal. The goal is to make people care about what you have to say.

I applaud Dave Fleet for breaking public relations into seven categories:

  1. Media relations
  2. Government relations
  3. Stakeholder relations
  4. Investor relations
  5. Internal/employee communications
  6. Customer relations
  7. Social media relations

But don’t all of those categories involve communicating, marketing, advertising, or otherwise relating to people? If so, why not call it for what it is?

PR agents understand the importance of listening to influencers and participating in conversations to expand knowledge and adapt to changes in new media.

Yet when I recently approached a pair of PR agency c0-founders and asked them how their new “people relations boutique firm was progressing,” I was greeted with curious stares.

Kids“People relations?” one of the girls asked me.

“Yes,” I said. “You’re relating with people as we’re talking now. Shouldn’t the industry term be people relations?”

She didn’t understand why it was necessary to change the mindset.

Jennifer Leggio, are you listening? The next time ZDNet runs a survey on the PR industry (a very good survey, at that), may I suggest asking agents and clients to challenge the status quo?

“A few people have a publicity problem, but almost everyone has a PR problem,” Seth summarizes at the bottom of his blog post. “You need to solve that one first.”

Is that so, Seth?

If David Mullen is correct and that PR be remolded into people relations, who has a problem with that?

Photo credits: voj and ravages


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