Whenever someone asks me what I do for a living (almost always the first question after that awkward introduction at any social occasion…) and I tell them that I’m a Publicist, I can can generally expect one of two reactions. “Oh that’s seems so cool and fun!”… which is where the conversation trails off or “what does a publicist actually do??”. Needless to say, I’ve noticed that there is some mystery surrounding PR and some very common misconceptions about what it is we publicists actually do all day.
Some people don’t know exactly what PR is let alone how it is different from advertising. The biggest difference is that in advertising; the company pays for ad space. It is a first-party approach and the words that are shared come directly from the organization. Public Relations, on the other hand is pitching to the media to get free coverage for their client. It is a third-party approach, the verbiage and message is crafted from a more neutral source
In PR the word “pitch” comes up a lot. But what does it actually mean to pitch something? It involves a few steps: First, you need a story or something exciting to talk about- a restaurant opening for example. From time to time, publicists have to come up with creative angles that the press will find interesting and want to write about. In other words, you have to create the story if there is no story.
The next step is to create the pitch. It shouldn’t be very long, one paragraph is usually sufficient and usually in the form of an email. It has to be enticing enough so the editors continue reading and are excited enough by the topic to write about it. Also, super important tip—make sure your email subject line is an eye catcher! Editors get hundreds of emails a week and most likely do not open all of them, so make sure your subject line is on point!
Lastly, publicists then create a pitch list, this is a list of editors that would most likely be interested in covering your pitch topic. This is so important because if you are not actually familiar with what certain editors write about, you may pitch your restaurant opening to a music publication and waste all of your efforts!
With all that in mind, PR is extremely valuable but it can take some time to achieve the end goal. PR is all about relationships with editors and developing creative strategies and pitches to obtain coverage.
Here are some misconceptions about Public Relations:
“PR is quick and easy” Many people who do not understand fully how PR works thinks that it happens overnight. This is not the case, a publicist has to take the time to craft a thoughtful pitch idea, pitch it to editors and follow up. Sometimes this process can create a result within a few days, a few weeks or even a few months. If an idea is not getting picked up a publicist may have to tweak the story until it gains interest. Also, something to be aware of is that print magazines are usually working on stories 4-6 months out so if a client wants to be featured in a specific magazine, it can take some time to get coverage.
“PR is all about press releases”. A press release is a great tool to send regarding a product launch, business opening or something large happening with a company but press releases can’t be sent for everything. Sometimes, individualized emails and pitches are more effective.
“Public Relations can’t be measured so it is not effective”. It is true, you can’t truly measure how many sales are driven by PR but PR is earned media and earned media is very credible sometimes more so than bought advertising.
“You can control the press if you are a publicist”. Not true. You can’t force press to cover or not cover a story but a good publicist knows how to communicate with the press in a smart and effective way
“PR is 9-5 Job” - Said no one ever! Although you may be in the office from 9-5, publicists are constantly thinking of new angles, strategies and pitches. Your job is never fully done. It is a publicist’s job to stay on top of current trends and figure out different approaches to garnish press coverage. PR also involves a lot of work events and networking. Even when you are not in the office, it is important to be out and about meeting more people in your industry.
“PR is Cheap”. All PR firms have different price ranges but because PR is such a vital job, be prepared to have a budget just for PR. A lot of time and energy goes into PR and if it was easy everyone could do it for themselves!