PR not publicity god damnit!

Seth Godin wrote a cracking little post recently about the difference between PR and publicity. He maintains the latter is just getting as much ink as possible; getting the media to make a fuss over you. PR, he says, is more about strategic message craft and the combination of interactions that determines peoples perceptions of you.

I’m glad he makes the distinction, because it’s crucial to PR being seen as a strategic management discipline. Publicity is a part of PR, often a big part, depending on who your client is.  PR is a more multifaceted game; one  that increasingly includes strategic insight and management counceling as well as communications output.

When I decided I was going into PR, one reaction was “So your going to send out press releases then?”, which I suppose was decidedly better than being branded a spin doctor, or as another said “like Max Clifford”.

While it’s hard to deny the ubiquitous Clifford’s talent – he’s recently provoked mass media frenzy over a total non-story in Jade Goody’s cancer case – he’s a publicist and nothing more.

Seth thinks that most firms do publicity rather than PR: now I’m sure a lot of PR folk would contest this notion, but he certainly makes a good point.

The reality is that PR firms are often under intense client pressure to get ‘collumn inches’ and some think this is the only way they can justify their paycheck.

Companies need to be educated that ink isn’t always a measure of success. You can’t work under the assumption that people will be receptive to your intended message just because its all over the nationals. We receive who knows how many communications every day and more ink doesn’t mean it’ll get through the clutter.

Good PR is about creating something compelling and engaging people with it, regardless of what medium is used. The challenge is reaching people in new and innovative ways, not just through asymmetrical mass media exposure.

In the online world, its anyones game: Marketing? PR? Advertising? It doesn’t really matter.

Increasingly communications disciplines are converging in terms of their toolset, so its the strategic message that really defines the discipline rather than the way its implemented.


About Tom Craik

Senior Account Executive at Finn Communications, a PR and Word of Mouth agency based in Leeds. Baby face. Northern Monkey. Attention junkie. Space man. Fake tan. Dancefloor dreamer. Analyser. Deliberator. Wordsmith. Book worm. Head in clouds. Telecaster. Dance floor master. Closet rasta. Free love. Fresh jokes. Old gear. Naff beard. Existential. Influential. Left of centre. iPod. Math rock. Psych Folk. Dropping dubstep. Chicken Balti. Laos. Berlin. Bass bin. Circle pit. Guggenheim. Baltic. Cabernet. Globalised. Wired. No house. No car. Going places!
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6 Responses to PR not publicity god damnit!

  1. Well written, Tom.

    Let them have it!

  2. mpr4wireless says:

    Tom, I do hope you will not become another Max Clifford!!! He is 100% in for the money, nothing to do with good PR and ethical practices. It’s ‘spin witch doctor’, twists and manipulation, taking advantage of many talentless folks wanting to be famous, the commoditisation of human image to own benefit and financial gain. I hope serious folks don’t consider that real PR!

  3. Amanda G. says:

    I totally agree!!!

    This goes back to what I said in one of my previous blog entries on PR identity (

    Most people have the wrong idea about PR! We are either seen as slimy spin doctors or manipulative publicists! The latter is seen as much more glamorous, because “at least you get to mix with the ‘who’s who’ or wherever while you’re at it”. Indeed publicity is one of the elements of PR but it defines one part (of many) and NOT the whole.

    As a profession ,we really need to establish our distinct identity and own it! Then we need to educate ourselves and companies on the true value of professional PR. And yes, -its true, column inches are no measure of communications success…

  4. It is very true that PR has a PR problem!

  5. nmspace says:

    Well written Tom. People always have different insights than what PR actually is. The most common is the one you mention in your post, by thinking that PR is only writing press releases.
    PR has so many parts a
    But to tell you the truth this is the less negative assumption about PR I ever heard. Negative connotations for PR are all over, most people believe that PR is about telling lies or misleading the people to a direction you want.
    In my country, PR is considered for most people to be a beautiful woman with short skirt at the entrance saying welcome and thank you for coming!

  6. Suzi Batchelor says:

    As a none PR person and someone with very little experience of the industry I can vouch for the ignorance of many as discussed above. It is not a fault of people per se but instead of the influence of the media and general stereotypes about PR. Obviously much of the good PR work that is done, is through the media and so it is unfortunate that stoires and interpretations reaching the public are built on these popularised views. Its like everything….. better education is required to change perspectives and maybe encourage more into a profession that no walk of life, business, public service, etc can manage without.

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