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#PRants: The Blurred Line of Perception and Reality
By: Shawn Paul Wood
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I have been told for most of my PR career that "Perception is reality." I get that. A client sees something in the media, infers what they will, calls you out on it, and you are left holding a big bag of "Suck it." But what if the client isn't right? And therein lies my rub — one that is so coarse, it feels like one of those awful Christmas sweaters your grandmother makes scorching your nipples. Terrible. 

There is something to be said for actually doing your job and educating your client, right? For example, what happens (and this has happened to everyone in this profession at one point) when a client calls you, berates you, damages your self-esteem, and possibly makes fun of your mother because the hated competitor was included in a TV story...without even a whiff of your client's brand. See? You knew I was going there even before I got to the end of the anecdote. It's awful. 

Your client is under the impression your side job is actually news director of the aforementioned TV station when you are not answering calls of vitriolic piss and vinegar. Without proper education and expectation management, your client can be led to believe you actually control the media instead of just begging and pleading...suggesting good stories. The perception is that the media answers to you, takes your stories, and runs with them, giving your client glory and good tidings for all to see. The reality is that you may be really good at what you do and maximize those relationships with the media to good results; however, a story can get bumped, ditched, or even slighted for a fatal accident, a shooting, or even a crack-smoking mayor (just saying). 

In that case — and many others — perception is certainly not reality. So why is that a bad thing? 

PRSA says nothing about it. IPRA says the same. And I doubt the APR accreditation test will count off for this. Yet most of my PR directors have always flown this banner high. And I call bullsh. This is not a case of the "customer is not always right." That is true in the world of customer service. Does the client have a legitimate gripe to be upset? Yes. Does the client have a reason to be mad about the absence of his or her brand? Definitely. Is it necessarily your fault? Possibly not, and it is quite all right to share that with the client. IMHO, the more we are able to educate our clients about PR, as well as our relationship with the media, the better we can manage expectations and share quantifiable results together. I think this is something I need to look into Kickstarter for or something, unless you have a comment to share. 

There is my soapbox and that is a PR rant (#PRants). 

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About the Author
Shawn Paul Wood is a hack-turned-flack with more than 20 years of collective journalism, copywriting and marketing communications experience. Shawn Paul is founder of Woodworks Communications in Dallas, Texas. If you need him, ping him here or follow him on Twitter @ShawnPaulWood
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