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.

I Know I’m Write

Reading is fundamental. Writing is as well. But not all writing is created equal, particularly when it comes to writing for news.

Maybe you’ve been there before. You need to write a press release but don’t have the slightest idea of where to start. You’re unsure about the content, the news factor of your story or what it’s worth. But you were always good in English, so you’ll figure it out.

Or maybe you’ve been here: you have an important message to get out to the media and want give them all the details. You’re uncertain of how to send your press release or if it will even get noticed. But you’re a fairly intelligent communicator, so you’ll make it happen.

By journalistic standards, a story without an angle is a “non-story.” What you may think is news may not exactly be what journalists consider a topic of interest for their readers. In a TV newsroom, a story without a visual element to capture for viewers lacks appeal and may be conveyed as a waste of time. Thus, your beloved press release that you’ve sweated and slaved over adorned with all its’ elaborate details and superlative-like adjectives ends up in File 13.

On the surface, writing for news isn’t much different from what you’ve been taught. However, there is one exception: style.

Enter the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook. Considered the “Bible of the Newspaper Industry,” it is the gold standard of writing for news. AP recently released their 2009 Stylebook packed with rules on grammar, spelling, punctuation and usage, capitalization, abbreviation, word and number usage. It is the one reference with fundamental guidelines for news reporting that all writers, editors, students and PR pros will follow.

When it comes to writing, none of us wants to be told that we’re wrong. Writing for news requires a certain clarity and professionalism that writing for everyday purposes may not hold up. Weak, cloudy writing can be the worst because it reflects our intellect, skill and thought or lack thereof.

Your writing for news should be closely matched with the standards that professional writers go by. While writing in AP style won’t guarantee you any coverage, it tells journalists who receive your press release that you care about good writing and value their craft enough to learn their precise language.

Guard yourself when writing for news by proofing, tailoring and checking your press release. Oh yes, and go get an AP Stylebook.