FRIDAY 20 JAN 2017 12:53 PM

IS PR A MANAGEMENT DISCIPLINE?

Is PR and communications a management discipline or are we doing ourselves a disservice? Jenny Caven, head of external affairs for Slimming World, writes in the PRCA's PR Council Yearbook

For some years now, PR has been going through an adolescent stage, coming to terms with our place in the world and our purpose in life. A recurring question that we constantly ask ourselves is whether management consultancies are a threat to PR and our role in protecting corporate reputation. It’s time we moved on.

Connection, collaboration, culture and creativity are the name of the game and luckily, all part of the PR lexicon. While new media is no longer new, organisations of all shapes, sizes and purpose have had to develop new skills, understanding and approaches in a global, digital world. Brands, agencies, businesses, public sector organisations big or small, we’ve all had to learn how to adapt the way that we communicate with new audiences on new channels, grow our influence, engage our publics and adapt the way we build and sustain relationships.

In the recent World PR Report 2016 produced by ICCO and PRWeek, 54% of global PR leaders reported corporate reputation as an area that they expect to see most growth over the new few years – second only to digital/online comms. However it is worth pointing out that only 7% of respondents saw competition from other professional services firms as a significant challenge.

As organisations increasingly recognise that reputation is their most important asset and the licence by which they operate, they need trusted advisers
– those with the ability to describe culture and values and why they are as important as strategy in achieving long term success. PR advisers need to analyse, interpret and understand the external environment and diverse communities and offer counsel about the consequences of a chosen course of action. It can mean being prepared to be unpopular and making it clear that organisational sustainability may mean taking the long view and that trust trumps profit when it comes to reputation.

What we need to aspire to is not to compete with management consultancies, but to use our ability to objectively interpret the external environment and understand our organisation’s place within it. We need to demonstrate leadership, not through command and control, but through collaboration, cooperation, authenticity, trust and ethical guidance.

In recent years we’ve made excellent progress in getting our PR house in order. We’ve shown leadership in developing professional ethical standards. We’ve long known the value of having a strategic framework, setting objectives, planning and we’ve now worked out better ways to evaluate our work more robustly and effectively to demonstrate our value.

We’ve invested in our core skill: building strong relationships with multiple publics and interpreting their behaviour and how to engage them. We’re leading the future with our ability to own social media and engage communities both online and offline. We are adept at understanding the risks associated with how a story or action is interpreted and shared and the potential backlash, should it be misrepresented. Any excellent PR knows, not only how to say sorry quickly and appropriately when things do go wrong, but why it is essential to do so before the value of an organisation plummets.

Collaboration has been forced not only on the PR industry, but on our cousins in the marketing and digital world too, as integration has become the norm. In
order to succeed and ensure a cohesive experience we have had to work together to deliver an authenticity and consistency – or risk being criticised openly and loudly by an ever vigilant public, eager to expose hypocrisy and dissonance and let us know when their experience doesn’t match their expectations.

The role of the in-house PR and corporate communicator has gained visibility and stature as they have become the conscience of the organisations that they represent. Employee engagement and engagement with brand ambassadors has risen in prominence. Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than on social media. While agencies bring insight and creativity to deliver great campaigns and content, when a rapid response that is culturally relevant and appropriate is needed, it is the in-house team that is best-placed. It is they who live, breathe and spend every hour and every day sharing and telling their organisation’s story and communicating its culture and values.

Is PR a management discipline? It is certainly part of the management mix. As trusted advisers, PR professionals need to be clear about our organisational objectives and why culture and remaining true to our values should determine strategy to protect and build reputation or risk the consequences of getting
it wrong. We lead the way in telling the stories of our organisations and building understanding and recognition for what those organisations represent. Connecting creatively on an ethical, emotional and empathic level with our audiences and publics is what PR is best at. Our greatest achievement and success in demonstrating the value of PR lies in our own conviction that this intangible value and how we deliver it, is both essential and invaluable.

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