There is an observance that Public Relations (PR) seems to be subsumed within the Marketing or Corporate Communications Department in an organisational structure, acting as a support function instead of a standalone department. Rather than make sweeping generalisations, this article specifically addresses mid-sized to large organisations and appreciates that smaller business justifiably can ill afford a PR department. However, they too fall short in underestimating the value of PR to their business, but that is a discussion for another article/blog.
Admittedly, in the late 80s – 90s, PR received a bad rap and took quite some time to recover. There have been some mindset shifts in the acceptance of PR and its importance to an organisation, but the battle remains where PR professionals still have to prove their worth to colleagues or clients.
Organisations who lead with PR or where PR is at the centre of decision-making experience all or a combination of the following:- maintain a strong reputation in the marketplace, have a high market share and can boast of fervent brand advocates with high customer loyalty and retention.
Why use PR?
To answer this question the definition of PR is needed. According to the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR): “Public relations is about reputation, the result of what you say and what you do and what others say about you. It is the discipline that looks after reputation with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.”
We as PR professionals know that reputation is the most important asset of an organisation, whether large or small. Some may know PR is needed, but not how to use it effectively to protect their brand. With technological savvy consumers, it only takes a few seconds to break or tarnish a reputation. If a crisis occurs, we are immediately required for damage limitation and operate under immense pressure. Our place is participating in, and determining crisis management and drafting various plans long before a crisis occurs.
Additionally, PR is predominantly seen as media relations, sponsorship management, working with influencers and to a lesser extent, events. It is only appreciated, or an interaction occurs with senior management when that interview is booked, the organisation received a favourable headline or mention in a coveted media platform.
We should be where strategic business decisions are made that drive the success of the organisation. Like marketing professionals, we must understand the industry we operate within, know the brand and all the organisations’ audiences/stakeholders. A successful PR strategy is derived from the overall marketing strategy to help reach the overall organisation objectives. While marketing is one-way communication, PR focuses on and is responsible for two-way communication with varied audiences, or stakeholders and creates integrated communication campaigns.
PRove your worth
To achieve a seat at the boardroom level, we must ensure our skills are seen as essential in the organisation. As a guide, this can be achieved by the following:
· Provide data – we are acutely aware of what is being said and how the organisation is perceived by media, competitors, experts and audience. Strategically use data collected through research on the brand, to help decision-making, solve organisational problems and reach objectives.
· Be proactive – ask senior management questions about the direction they might want to take the product/service and use research data to confirm or support your points.
· Inter-departmental synergy – know how the different departments function and explain how and why you function, so they can provide you with relevant information in a timely manner. Provide them with real-life examples from their department to encourage thinking in a holistic way about the organisation. With internal audiences becoming part of the external communication, it is important all departments; HR, Accounts, Marketing, Customers Service etc. have an integrated communications plan and stay on-brand by using the same key messages.
· Produce timely reports – Your KPIs are important whether you present them monthly, quarterly or annually. Use them to demonstrate business value, how money spent contributed to business goals. Ad hoc reports may also include specific campaign reports and crisis reports.
If anyone has the temerity to question the relevance of PR in the boardroom, outline the definition of PR and ask them, where would a brand be without its reputation? To know what is being said about the organisation and by whom is an important PR function. It goes without saying that the person who establishes, builds, maintains and protects the reputation of an organisation: the PR professional, deserves a seat at the boardroom table.