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What’s PR got to do with it?

April 12, 2011

For a long time now, my boss, Tom Buchan, has outlawed the term ‘PR’ from our company’s marketing. It’s not simply because public relations has become a byword for spinning the truth – although that’s certainly one factor. More importantly,  it’s because it’s a narrow way to describe what we do as communicators.

When I’m asked, ‘so, what do you do?’, I’ll admit that my normal response of ‘corporate communication’ only elicits baffled looks, so I resort to ‘public relations’ by way explanation. But it’s a poor substitute.

In any case, the point is this: what I do is not about spinning the truth, it’s about telling stories. Whether it’s about a company or an individual, the challenge is to understand what they have to say, then help them say it well.

Simple as this sounds, it’s done very badly, a lot of the time. The only thing more surprising than the number of times I tell clients ‘that’s a sales message, not a story’, is the number of times I see PR practitioners completely ignore that distinction. The result is the ubiquitous sales-document-as-media-release, which drives journalists nuts. Understandably.

Another reason we avoid the ‘PR’ moniker is that it has come to suggest a strong focus on media – that the sum total of what we do is get our clients in the newspaper. I would say I’m pretty good at that (with the help of my team), but it’s by no means all of what I do. Sometimes a well-crafted speech, an eloquent discussion paper or an online connecting strategy is much more effective in telling a story. And ultimately, not every story is newsworthy – no matter how you spin it.

So what’s the raison d’etre of this blog (other than enjoying a a forum where no one proscribes my use of wanky French expressions)? Essentially, I’d like to share my thoughts on how we can communicate better. Not just in business – although that’s a focus – but every time we have a thought to express. I don’t profess to be a perfect writer or know everything about language (even though most people don’t bother challenging me on obscure grammar points). But there are lots of ways we can make our thoughts easier to understand, and I’d like to share them. OK, I’d also like to call out some awful crimes against language and generally indulge in rants. But who doesn’t, hey?


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  1. Anthony Tham permalink

    You hit the mark when you said PR is about telling stories. The term “spinning” is a poor way of explaining what PR practitioners do. I once heard someone use this term instead: PR folks “weave a tale” …I thought that was funny but it’s true. We take what we’ve learned from clients to develop a story for the media. These days, the client themselves are also content generators so with the help of PR agencies and communicators like yourself, companies are better able to tell their own story via their internal/external communication channels.

    I also agree that PR is more than just media relations. There’s event planning, crisis communications, internal communications, social media, etc. Nice post 🙂

  2. Thanks Anthony, for being my first commenter! It’s been said before, but in this game, content really is king.

  3. Kristie Okely permalink

    As you always say to me, less is more, so I will cut out all the big words, french phrases and cliches from my comments and just go with, “well said” – good job Belinda White, I like it.

  4. It’s great to have a blog on communication. I really like Tom Lehrer’s take on the subject. I might not have the quote exactly right, but it goes like this: “We hear a lot these days about how people can’t communicate. Wives can’t communicate with their husbands, children can’t communicate with their parents, etc. This has become the subject of a lot of modern novels, plays, films, and so forth. But I really think that if people can’t communicate, the least they can do is to shut up…”.
    Keep up the good work. Looking forward to reading more. You can definitely communicate, so please don’t stop!

    • The funny thing is, my husband thinks I am a very poor communicator in real life. It’s mainly because I think I have told him things, but I have only said it in my head. 😉

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