PR Has a PR Problem

The romanticization and outdated narrative of public relations has created a false perception of PR in the eyes of the general public, according to Brandi Boatner, an ICON 2022 speaker and the self-titled “Beyoncé of the Business World.” In actuality, Boatner works with external influencers for IBM, a technology company.

PR has been falsely publicized in movies and television due to shows like “Emily in Paris” and “Scandal.” Often, Hollywood shows a character snapping a quick photo and posting it on social media, which is the extent of their entire PR campaign.

This incorrect representation of PR in the real world creates a dangerous narrative for rising PR professionals. Boatner said it is a problem, and it is up to young people to fix it.

Broadcast Television and Media

“Sex and the City” character Samantha Jones was characterized as a PR professional, but actions speak louder than words. The character was shown, more often than not, hosting extravagant parties, getting into the most popular clubs and “bar-hopping and bed-hopping” in New York City. Boatner stressed that Samantha Jones rarely spoke to a journalist.

Olivia Pope from “Scandal” was the first Black woman lead on prime-time television, and her character was based on a PR professional and previous ICON speaker named Judy Smith. Still, “Scandal” creates a cultural perception of crises happening every day and killing people to keep secrets.

Cultural Perception Problems

Bar-hopping, extravagant parties and murder are not what the field of public relations is supposed to be. Strategy, influence and writing are, according to Boatner. 

“It is such a good time to be in PR because you can do so many things,” Boatner said. “But people don’t know what we do.”

Media relations come to mind for many members of the general public as a PR job requirement, but there is far more to PR than that. Internal communications, crisis communications, content marketing, influencer relationships and more all fall under PR.

Yet, What Can Be Done to Change That?

“PR people,” Boatner said. “We influence other people.”

Like the theme for ICON 2022, the power of influence comes down to reputation. As PR professionals, being strategic and mindful of PR’s online reputation can lead to heavy influence.

“If PR pros can’t manage our own reputation as an industry, why should our clients let us manage their reputation?” Boatner questioned.

“The New Narrative for PR”

Boatner suggests that relying on modern communication skills like digital intelligence, behavioral science, crisis management, influencer relations and more can create a new space for PR to grow. 

She created a new narrative about the modern storyteller that she feels fits the power and influence future PR professionals should strive for.

For her, modern storytellers should be three things: scientists, strategists and creators. Scientists uncover and analyze what drives the world, strategists find ways to connect and create action plans and creators articulate stories in creative, impactful ways.

Boatner acknowledges that this new narrative can be difficult, but there are ways to combat it. 

“The best PR pros know how to strategically communicate their personal and organizational positioning to be dynamic and forward-thinking,” Boatner said.

The remainder of the time during Boatner’s session at ICON 2022 was spent answering questions from students. She said one of her favorite things is to give back to students by speaking at ICON as often as possible. ICON 2022 is the 17th Conference she’s attended.

“PR is a pink industry,” Boatner said. “It is up to you all in this room to be the change the PR profession needs.”

Katie Masko is a public relations major at Kent State University with double minors in leadership and advertising. Katie is from Columbus, Ohio, and this will be her 2nd year in PRSSA. As vice-president of communications, Katie is excited to make the newsletter engaging and fun to better connect the PRSSA community at Kent State. Outside of class and PRSSA, you’ll catch Katie in Kent State’s newsroom working on KentWired’s social media. Post-graduation, Katie would love to work in entertainment, but ultimately wants to see where the world takes her.

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