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Don't Insult PR People by Calling Them Marketers

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Do people quoted in newspapers review the stories before they run? Can advertisers legally lie? Are PR people the biggest liars of all? How much does it cost to get a story into The Globe and Mail or the Toronto Star? Who do you pay? Once you start reading, why does the headline have nothing to do with the story?

Last Saturday's (Sept. 28) Globe and Mail has a story by two excellent reporters, Steven Chase and Steve Ladurantaye, writing about the new CBC boss-to-be Heather Conway. They write, "... an incredible challenge for a marketing and public relations executive who hasn't worked in the news industry ...."

Well, I suggest being the PR boss for politicians and a bank means she has worked in the news industry.

I have a good understanding of what PR is, after four decades. PR is multi-faceted, but it's the publicity and media relations sub-set that most people think of as PR.

These PR people are in the news industry, on the content side. Here are two short definitions.

"The media relations and publicity part of Public Relations is the management function that builds, maintains, restores and evolves reputations of individuals and organizations using messages that have an editorial and public interest sensibility, often delivered, seemingly for free, through 'the media'."

When most people think of Marketing, it is the "P for Promotion" part of the traditional Fours Ps of Marketing, primarily advertising and sales promotion. The other three Ps are Product, Place and Price.

Advertising messages are published exactly as created.

Marketers buy complete control of their message.

"Editorial and public interest sensibility" means we in PR do our best to craft honest and non-misleading messages, we believe in "the public interest" as well as "of interest to the public" and many messages are conveyed with the third-party endorsation and the alterations and editing of editors and producers and other controllers of the information conduit.

Yes, in later columns I'll explain "public interest" and "third party endorsation" and "editorial conduit."

This is my first Huffington Post column. It's written to help people sort out public relations from marketing. Future columns will help you understand how PR affects your life in many ways, mostly positive.

Almost all the words a marketer creates are planned to cause people to give money to the marketers' organizations. Last Saturday's Globe and Mail had a page one BMO ad about treasury solutions, subordinated debt, and other obscure offerings. It was followed on page two by three Tiffany rings, one Cartier ring, and some free soup bowls if you buy the right Wedgewood dishes from William Ashley.

The only reason this stuff is in the paper is because marketers paid for it to be published, exactly as written, photographed, and designed.

The best known element of public relations is media relations, or publicity. The words surrounding the ads throughout a newspaper are called editorial, and are decided by journalists, whether reporters, columnists (different from reporters), editors or producers.

Many but not all of those stories are influenced by PR people like me who work with journalists. We do not have any control over whether or when a story we suggest, help with or try to block, will run, nor what words will be used, nor what will be said about our organization, its people, and its competitors.

Sometimes PR people think up a story idea and try to get journalists interested. We call this "pitching a story." Other times, the journalists have the ideas and ask PR people for help. Or, because our goal is to keep a negative story out of the paper, journalists try to go around us to interview real subject experts without any PR interference.

No money changes hands between story subject / PR people and journalists. The subject does not get to review the words. Advertisers can't lie, but many are masters at subtle shades of meaning. PR people rarely lie, partly because journalists usually look for confirming sources and alternative viewpoints. Headlines are wrong because reporters who know the story don't write them. Editors write headlines, some editors are in India now. Other editors are in Hamilton for papers in Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal and more.

Two last thoughts.

ONE: Newspapers' front news "A" sections and their business sections -- The Globe's Report on Business and the Financial Post section in The National Post, for instance -- are the media most likely to follow this distinction between public relations and marketing. Women's "home" or "shelter" magazines are probably the most likely to stray from them.

TWO: Most people buy and read publications for the "editorial content" that so often comes with help from PR people. They do not usually buy them for advertising from marketers.

My next column will look at the mix of PR activities that help build and maintain an organization's reputation.

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