Why Being Called A Publicist is Not Enough


If I say I’m a doctor, there would be a general assumption that I have degrees in my area of study, hold a significant amount of professional expertise to maintain creditability, and possess a verifiable list of clients that can vouch for my work. That’s how it works for most professional titles.
I was bothered when I saw a Gawker.com post about “the most famous publicist” who blasted a press release about her dinner date with Cheers sitcom actor, John Ratzenberger, to the media. The random email with “MEDIA ALERT” leading its’ subject line included the restaurant’s location and a welcome for all media to come cover the event.

Needless to say, these are the type of antics that would be not approved by the Universal Accreditation Board for PR.

I hope that this whole thing was just a fluke and no one really makes the assumption that most publicists pull these stunts. It stinks like all kinds of wrong. Better yet, I hope that this improper, self-serving practice does not leak into the mindsets to future PR practitioners.

I’m not extremely fond using of the title of “publicist” but I do use it at times. It’s the easiest way to describe what you do as a PR practitioner. Publicist is the most commonly known title that most people will recognize and relate to. It’s also the most abused and misused job title in the PR.

I don’t question colleagues on their expertise or experience. If you say you’re in PR or you’re a “publicist,” I trust you. However, respect is another issue. If the reputation that proceeds you is an unstable one, then you’re watering down the game for the rest of us.

A title means nothing if you don’t respect the method by which it is earned.

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5 thoughts on “Why Being Called A Publicist is Not Enough

  1. David Rosen says:

    You are quite right, and I share your concern. My handle on many websites is, proudly, “publicityman.” The goal of publicity, which is often at the core of what public relations practitioners do, is not to sell products. It is to create visibility and favorable image for products and organizations so the public will be favorably disposed to buy when the marketers go in for the kill. On a loftier scale, the goal is to shape public opinion to support meaningful social change. It is a profession to be proud of, and its standing and public understanding will return some day.

  2. Aerial M. Ellis says:

    Thanks David. You are correct. It is a profession to be proud of. The responsibility of shaping public opinion is to be taken very seriously because of the impact it can have on social change. I think celebrity culture, among other things, has changed the perception of what PR practitioners are charged to do. It’s deeper than getting a few photos on a blog or gaining notoriety for yourself by way of a client. I too hope that level of understanding will emerge again.

  3. Bob Stovall - Colorado Springs says:

    My partner and I do not use the term “publicist” to describe what we do. We try to distinguish ourselves in the market from publicists – those who blast out press releases. (I wonder if she got a second date.) We stake our reputation on our role as “public relations professionals” who assist clients in planning and implementing a program to communicate with their target audience, internal or external. That may include an occasional press release, but we tell our clients that a good PR effort is more than sending stuff that is often ignored. It involves building both the relationships and the message to enable the client to be visible and respected over the long haul.

  4. I enjoyed reading the posts. This is very true and very beneficial reading for people in our profession as well as those who are simply interested in learning more about the music industry. I agree wholeheartedly.

  5. Crys says:

    I often wear both hats, publicist and a public relations professional depending on the client or new business prospects, as well as the scope of the project. But often, it’s true that the term ‘publicist’ does not necessarily invoke immediate confidence, like its more corporate type of public relations professional. But to me, both are — like David said– not to sell the products, but create and maintain positive images for brands (products, people, venues, etc) and doing so through third-party endorsements, i.e.; the media and social networking.

    I then approach each new business opportunities accordingly; entertainment related (actors, films, high-profile celebrity events = publicist), if it’s more corporate related (branding & marketing, product launches, crisis management communications, etc = public relations).

    But each often include elements of both. But in either case, I never pepper unnecessary press releases and/or media alerts like some who think that is the only way to get attention (squeaky wheel gets the grease mindset), rather only through patient thought out strategic targeting of information to the right people at the right time.

    My 2 cents. 🙂

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