By: Katherine Masko
The romanticization and outdated narrative of public relations has created a false perception of PR in the eyes of the general public, according to Brandi Boatner, the self-titled “Beyoncé of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, posting it on social media and that creates the 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's young people's prerogative 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 PR professional Judy Smith, who has previously spoken at ICON. Still, “Scandal” creates a cultural perception of crises happening every day and killing people to keep secrets, secret.
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, the 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.
Boatner spent the remainder of the time 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 year 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.”