So you work in PR…what exactly does that mean?

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With the economic recovery on its way, public relations agencies have also experienced an uptick in client work and new business. According to the International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO) 2011 World Report, “The two largest markets for public relations – the US and the UK – both rebounded from a five percent decline in 2009 to record a double‐digit recovery in 2010. US consultancies posted an average 11% increase in overall fee revenue.” While this is great news for our industry, public relations professionals still struggle with proving the value of PR. In general, companies know they need us, but most couldn’t tell you why. In turn, it brings up the issue of education around public relations and its role within a company. Unlike a marketing or advertising team, public relations is a more complex, long-term business strategy that’s difficult to assess in terms of immediate ROI. Public relations is about building a reputation, maintaining it and then managing any missteps along the way.

Which brings me to the Bloomberg Businessweek article that addresses the issue of PR and MBAs—or rather, the lack of convergence between the two worlds. The author, Anthony D’Angelo, explains how the reputation of a company is often broken by the words or actions of a single CEO who has acted out of turn.  “Despite impeccable credentials and accomplished careers,” he writes, “many chief executives find themselves looking foolish after responding obtusely to common and inevitable threats to their companies’ reputations.”  He notes that very few of the nation’s top MBA programs offer training in reputation management. In fact, according to a PRSA report, “only 16 percent offer a single course in crisis and conflict management, strategic communications, public relations, or whatever label one chooses to describe management of a precious organizational asset: reputation.”

One could argue that this is where the role of the Chief Communications Officer comes into play. But, if CEO’s don’t value the role of PR or see its importance within the structure of the company, then the advice of that person becomes obsolete. CEO’s are more likely to take legal counsel’s advice, which, for better or worse usually comes in the form of “keep quiet.” With that type of attitude, it’s no wonder the public is hesitant to trust businesses. Here lies the importance of a communications strategy and team, one that takes into account not only legal repercussions (if any exist) but also that of the most valuable aspect of your business: its reputation. Like trust, a good reputation takes years to build and only minutes to break. The financial crisis and reputations of AIG and Goldman Sachs taught us that lesson loud and clear.

The underlying message here is that while public relations has evolved, but our role in helping companies still remains unclear to many. So let me clarify: public relations professionals are here to highlight a company’s strengths, encourage leaders to be honest about their business practices and help them earn a reputation they’re proud to support.

I agree that getting that message across to CEOs can start much earlier, and maybe the next generation of MBAs will have the benefit of PR behind them when they need it most: from the beginning.

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One Response to “So you work in PR…what exactly does that mean?”

  1. Homework before PR: important in any language « Says:

    […] hacking death,” considering bringing on a professional to help with media training.  A trained public relations professional will be able to tell you that you might as well wear a Canadian tuxedo as a loud, obnoxious tie if […]

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