A fact that only becomes more obvious in times of crisis – but is already known well by those in the industry themselves – PR is an integral part of modern management across businesses big and small, in every sector.
In the Vuelio white paper Elevating the role of public relations in management, Stephen Waddington and Dr Jon White make the case – here are four lessons to take away:
1) PR bridges boundaries both inside and outside of organisations
‘Public relations provides the bridge between internal and external aspects of an organisation. Its function is to link the two spheres and this aspect of public relations practice has been explored thoroughly in studies of the roles of so-called ‘boundary spanning’ individuals, who work across organisational boundaries – internally and externally – to provide, gather and return information.’
Teams, and the information they deal in, can quickly become siloed within an organisation. Best equipped to bridge these disconnections and ensure relevant information is then fed to and from external stakeholders appropriately? PR teams, or those who serve similar functions and use the skills of PR.
2) Yet many companies don’t have a ‘comms’ person in place officially on the senior level
‘Analysis of the boards and management teams of the FTSE 100 by the CIPR found almost half have no director of comms, director of corporate affairs or similar dedicated position at this senior level. The situation is markedly different for human resources. The CIPR reported that 80 of the FTSE 100 companies have a dedicated HR figure on their executive leadership team or management committee.’
Research suggests that despite its effectiveness, PR still goes unrecognised as a strategic contributor to the function of management. Organisations that relied on comms and PR teams during the early days of the pandemic, and will again should future crises arise for their business, could benefit from devoted senior comms expertise and insight at the board level.
3) Research shows that public relations teams should be working in close conjunction with management
‘We know from research including Excellence Study commissioned on behalf of the IABC and led by James Grunig in the 1990s and the longitudinal European Communication Monitor study conducted from 2007 to 2016 that what is required to ensure better public relations practice is full incorporation into management.’
Waddington and Dr White argue that the ‘optimum situation’ for PR is to function in direct relation to those making the decisions right at the top of organisational infrastructure – part of the board itself or management function, reporting directly to the CEO.
4) PR people should upskill now to be ready to take on managerial responsibilities in future
‘As a newer practice, public relations still does not allow for the smooth transition from the use of technical skills to more managerial roles. The insistence that public relations is a communication practice is a limitation on progress to management – it amounts to an invitation to view practitioners as technicians. Additionally, the move into management is not clearly signposted: how do practitioners, skilled in communication techniques, acquire knowledge and confidence in the use of management techniques?’
While the management function may be ready for PR (or, already desperately in need of it), PR people themselves may not quite be ready to seamlessly blend into the board level way of doing things. Waddington and Dr White posit that finding common features already shared by PR and management can provide a way in – project management, for example, as well as the PR’s toolbox – communications skills, flexibility and readiness to take on the big challenges.
Stephen Waddington and Dr Jon White are joining Vuelio alongside CIPR President and founder of spottydog communications Rachel Roberts, for a live webinar on 23 November at 11am to discuss their white paper and the role of PR in management. Sign up to join or to receive the recording afterwards.