Survey reveals PR industry could do with a little PR itself

In the minds of the general public there appears to be a lot of confusion and misconception – even an air of negativity – surrounding public relations and what people who work in the industry actually do.

What is PR?

48 per cent of respondents to a survey we ran recently felt that PR could be best described as “advertising” or “marketing” with (arguably) the industry’s preferred answer of “communications” way behind on 14 per cent. Interestingly enough, despite the fact that journalism and PR often share similar day-to-day tasks – researching, conducting interviews, drafting, editing, proofing etc. – only three per cent of respondents drew a comparison between the two, making it the bottom answer (to the joy of @SmugJourno and hacks everywhere I imagine).

PR Survey 1

What do PR agencies do?

We also asked people what they think PR agencies actually do. The top five answers were as follows:

  • Writing and sending out press releases
  • Acting as spokespeople
  • Running marketing campaigns
  • Managing the public image of celebrities
  • Organising events/parties

Again, there appears to be a lack of knowledge about what separates marketing from PR, and every PRO’s two favourite words – celebrities and parties – make their usual appearances (if only it was all so glamorous!).

But perhaps what is more interesting is that almost a quarter of those surveyed picked three activities that are certainly not what PR is supposed to be about:

  • Putting advertisements in newspapers/magazines
  • Telling journalists what to write
  • Paying for stories to be put in newspapers

How do they do it?

Finally, we asked respondents to name the three activities they think that people working in PR spend most of their time doing. Their answers are presented in the word cloud below.

Perceptions Survey 2

The majority of the answers here are on the right track, with less accurate ones such as sales making an appearance on the periphery. “Talking to the press” and “press releases” were the top answers and despite a lot of people still thinking PR is all cocktails and lunches, these are balanced out by those who saw it as involving a lot of management, organisation and hard work.

However, the digital elements of modern PR are the noticeable absentees from this list, with poor (or no) showings from the likes of social media, video, SEO, metrics, analytics etc.


What I’ve taken from the all of the results above is that many people seem to understand the elements of what PR involves and the intentions behind it, but maybe not its overall objectives and how these are actually achieved.

Such perceptions are possibly because of the behind-the-scenes nature of the industry itself as PR quietly bridges the gap between client and target audience. Activities such as ghost writing, pitching on behalf of others or social media account management mean that quite often the role of the PR agency is only really noticed by those who also work in PR.

But these perceptions are also influenced no doubt by the number of marketing jobs that are advertised as being PR, simply because they involve face-to-face interaction with the public. For instance in an episode of Channel 4’s What Happens in Kavos broadcast last year, a pair of young women were repeatedly referred to as “PR girls” for their role in handing out flyers and encouraging already drunk people to get more drunk in their nightclub.

Now I’m not saying that this isn’t the same as PR, but having read Andy, 22, from Kent’s glowing report of his time working in Kavos – where highlights include it being “a good laugh” where “you can get hammered on the job for free” and the only negative appears to be “the gipsies” – I couldn’t help but feel that his PR experience is quite different from my own.


In reality PR straddles a number of different disciplines – marketing, advertising, communications, journalism etc. – combining elements from all but being noticeably different at the same time.

The aim of this survey was to discover which of these disciplines represents the best answer to the question, "What is PR?" However, it’s clear that there is still a large degree of uncertainty and that the industry could do with a little PR itself to clear things up once and for all.

Unless, of course, that is the point. Maybe PR is supposed to go unnoticed by those outside the industry; with the best PR agencies striving to be invisible in practice and instead proving their worth through improved client brand performance or increased business leads? PR generated stories are designed to interact with the reader on a far more subtle and personal level than, say, advertising. But if the public truly knew what we got up to would PR generated stories have less impact?

Or maybe we shouldn’t care what the public think about us and instead focus on what they think about our clients and how best we can turn this into business for them? You know, when we’re not all sipping champagne and taking people out to "networking" lunches that is...

Interested in how a PR agency can generate business leads for your company? Contact us for more information. You can also visit our B2B PR blog for more posts on the industry.