Ever wondered why some brands seem to get so much hype and attention while others struggle in obscurity?

The truth is, it's often down to PR. You know, public relations - that dark art of spin and persuasion designed to make brands popular through sheer force of will. PR teams are paid big bucks to get their clients into the public eye, even if they don't really deserve the attention. They'll claim it's about 'building awareness' or 'sharing stories', but don't be fooled.

PR is really just a glorified popularity contest, using clever words and loud voices to drown out the competition. The next time you find yourself lusting after some trendy new product or praising a company you've never even used, ask yourself why. Chances are, it's just good PR.

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Photo by Pete Alexopoulos / Unsplash

What Is PR and Why Do Companies Use It?

Public relations, or PR, is all about crafting and promoting a positive public image for companies, organisations or public figures. The goal of PR is to influence public opinion and gain popularity and approval.

PR teams employ strategic communication techniques like media relations, social media marketing, event planning and crisis management to convey specific messages to target audiences. They use persuasive language and "spin" to portray their clients in the best possible light, even if it means bending the truth.

PR campaigns are often used when companies want to launch a new product, rebrand themselves or do damage control during scandals and crises. Common tactics include press releases, media interviews, social media posts, stunts and gimmicks. The truth is, most PR efforts rely more on optics and hype than honesty and transparency.

While some argue PR serves an important purpose in facilitating open communication, many see it as a manipulative tactic used by companies and public figures to gain undeserved popularity and approval. PR may be an effective marketing tool, but at its core, it's really just a popularity contest.

Next time you see a company boasting an exciting new partnership or initiative, consider the motivations and messaging behind their PR strategy. The truth is often far less glamorous than the curated image presented to the public. But in the end, the only contest that really matters is the one for your dollars and loyalty as a consumer.

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Photo by Dan Barrett / Unsplash

Common PR Tactics and Techniques Companies Deploy

Public relations is all about controlling your image and manipulating public perception. Companies employ PR firms to spread carefully crafted messages that make them seem innovative, charitable, or environmentally friendly. Don’t be fooled by the spin - it’s usually just a popularity contest.

Common PR Tactics

Companies often use press releases, media tours, and public speeches to shape opinion. Executives do interviews on TV and radio to seem more relatable, while avoiding hard questions. They use keywords like “sustainable”, “disruptive” or “eco-friendly” whether true or not.

Social media is also leveraged for PR. Companies post curated content on platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to build buzz and drive traffic to their website or products. They pay influencers to promote their brand to tap into the influencer’s followers.

When Companies Use PR

Companies deploy PR during product launches, mergers and acquisitions, or when facing public backlash. They aim to control the narrative and come across as virtuous. PR firms work to contain negative coverage, limit damage, and reframe issues. They release vague corporate statements, shift blame, or make empty promises to appease critics until the news cycle moves on.

While PR has legitimate uses, more often it’s a smokescreen. Companies are primarily interested in profits, not people or the planet. Next time a company touts their ethics or charity work, consider the motivation and look beyond the hype. The truth is usually far more complex than their PR-friendly facade suggests.

a stage with a blue curtain and a sign that reads gaslight
Photo by Alex Wolowiecki / Unsplash

PR as a Popularity Contest: Manufacturing Image Over Substance

PR campaigns are really just popularity contests designed to make companies and public figures look good rather than actually be good. The goal of PR is to generate publicity and media coverage that portrays the company or client in a positive light, even if it’s not entirely honest.

Doublespeak and spin

PR pros are masters of using language to manipulate public perception. They employ “spin” and double-speak, using strategic wording to convey a certain impression that may distort the truth or hide unpleasant realities. Common tactics include:

  • Euphemisms: Using mild, indirect words in place of more accurate but unpleasant ones. For example, downsizing instead of firing or laying off.
  • Exaggeration: Overstating the positives and understating the negatives. For example, calling a product “revolutionary” when it’s really just an incremental improvement.
  • Omission: Leaving out important facts or details that would reflect poorly on the company. The truth is often in what they don’t say.

When companies deploy PR

Companies invest heavily in PR during a crisis to try and salvage their reputation, but they also use it proactively to gain goodwill and competitive advantage. Some common situations that drive PR efforts include:

  • Scandals, controversies or crises: Trying to spin the narrative in their favour and repair public trust.
  • Mergers & acquisitions: Smoothing over the transition and addressing concerns.
  • Product launches: Generating hype, excitement and coverage around a new product or service.
  • Rebranding: Promoting an updated brand identity and strategic direction. Out with the old and in with the new. There is nothing like a rebrand (or a C-Suite firing) to distract from past controversies!
  • Awards & rankings: Touting accolades and achievements as a means of credibility building.

While PR can be an effective tool for sharing genuinely meaningful stories and building authentic connections, more often it is a superficial popularity contest where image trumps substance. The next time a company announcement seems too good to be true, it probably is. Look beyond the hype to see if there’s any real value or meaning beneath the surface.

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Photo by Ante Hamersmit / Unsplash

When PR Goes Wrong: Handling a PR Crisis

When a PR campaign goes off the rails, companies often have to scramble into crisis management mode. A PR crisis can happen for many reasons - a product recall, executive scandal, lawsuit, or social media firestorm. Whatever the cause, the goal is the same: get ahead of the crisis, take responsibility, and work to repair your reputation.

As a consumer, a company's PR crisis response says a lot about them. Do they own up to mistakes immediately? Are they transparent in their messaging? Do they take real action to resolve issues and make things right? If a company stumbles in their crisis management, it damages trust and can be hard to come back from.

When a PR crisis hits, companies will usually deploy common tactics to try and control the narrative. They may issue a public apology, do media interviews, launch an awareness campaign, or make policy changes. The key is to be prompt, sincere, and back words with meaningful actions. Some things to avoid are:

  • Denying responsibility or blame-shifting. People see through empty excuses.
  • Lying or purposely misleading the public. The truth usually comes out eventually.
  • Staying silent. Not addressing a crisis only makes you seem unwilling to accept accountability or correct mistakes.
  • Half measures. Don't make empty promises or surface-level changes. Take substantial action.

A good PR crisis response is a chance for companies to rebuild trust and strengthen their brand. While the situation may be uncomfortable, coming out the other side with integrity intact is worth the effort. Consumers will remember how you handled yourself in difficult times, not just when things are going smoothly.

The truth is, PR is often more about popularity and perception than reality. But companies that use PR strategies responsibly and stay dedicated to honesty and transparency will find more success in the long run. Ultimately, the most effective PR comes from a place of authenticity.

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Photo by Jorge Lázaro / Unsplash

Seeing Through the Spin: Why You Should Be Wary of PR Messaging

As a consumer, you should be wary of the messaging that comes from a company's public relations team. Their job is to make their client or organisation look as good as possible, even if it means obscuring the truth or manipulating public opinion.

Double-Speak and Euphemisms

PR pros are experts in using language to influence how people think and feel about a company or product. They rely on "double-speak" and euphemisms to put a positive spin on negative topics. For example, downsizing becomes "right-sizing," and layoffs are "workforce reductions." These terms are meant to soften the blow, but the end result is the same.

Repetition and Catchphrases

Companies will often repeat slogans, taglines and key messages frequently to drum them into people's minds. The idea is that the more people hear something, the more believable it becomes. PR teams are also adept at coming up with catchy soundbites, like "Where's the beef?" or "Just do it." These types of repetitive slogans and catchphrases are meant to build brand awareness and shape public opinion through familiarity.

Crisis Management

When a company faces a PR crisis, their public relations team kicks into overdrive. Their goal is to contain negative publicity and repair any damage to the brand's reputation as quickly as possible. Common tactics include issuing public apologies, scapegoating, and deflecting blame. The company may also make big announcements or launch new initiatives to divert media attention away from the crisis.

The bottom line is that PR aims to make companies appear in the best light, not convey objective truth. As consumers, we must look behind the press releases and slick campaigns to understand what companies really stand for and how their actions impact society. The truth is often far less polished than their carefully crafted brand image. So take all PR messaging with a healthy dose of scepticism.


It's all just smoke and mirrors designed to make brands and people look good, whether they deserve it or not. The next time you read a press release or see a company spokesman on TV, remember that it's not about honesty or transparency. It's about popularity and perception.

The truth is often left behind in the race to get eyeballs and sway opinions. Don't get taken in by the hype and hollow promises of PR. See through the spin and make up your own mind based on the facts, not manufactured publicity stunts. You'll be glad you did.