PR is much more than just communicating the decisions of management – in 2022, PR should be involved in the decision-making process, right from the start.
Yet despite the proof of PR through times of crisis over the last few years, recognition and integration of PR into management and the C-suite is not yet a reality for many organisations How can PR break into the boardroom?
Exploring themes from the recent white paper ‘Elevating the role of public relations in management’, Stephen Waddington and Dr Jon White were joined by CIPR president and spottydog communications founder Rachel Roberts for our webinar ‘From tactical to critical: Why PR belongs at the top table’.
Here are four lessons to help elevate your PR:
1) The role PR plays in management is only becoming more obvious
‘At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I observed public relations elevated very firmly into management,’ shared Stephen. ‘I hadn’t seen the like before in my career, where PR was so valued.
‘Think back two years, there was that point where PR teams were part of daily meetings, part of the management function in terms of organisation, working from home and the supply chain; that complex environment.
‘I’ve learned that the impact of the pandemic wasn’t unusual in elevating PR. There are a number of situations where it is quickly elevated: crisis, credibility issues, media agendas, leadership. What is interesting in particular is how this role can be developed.’
2) Public relations needs to go beyond the aspirational to the practical
‘My starting point with this idea was in a meeting with a fellow faculty member years ago,’ said Dr Jon.
‘The standard text in North America used at the time, stated emphatically that PR is a management function. My skeptical faculty member, who came from a journalist background, said “Is that true? Isn’t that aspirational rather than reality?” And reality shows it is aspirational, currently.
‘In our discussion with Vuelio PR clients, only one in five are fully integrated into management. That is the reality – we would like to claim a place the top table, but we aren’t really there yet.
‘Every organisation has important relationships to attend to internally and externally – attention needs to be paid to these relationships and how groups are behaving – that is PR territory.’
3) Make use of shared skilled sets to get to the next level
‘ESG is right at the fore of management – organisations can’t just look at the economic situation they’re faced with, but social and governance issues also,’ advised Stephen. ‘As PRs, we have perspective to bring to that. Our opportunity is to bring a fresh outlook to decision making.
‘There are several ways to go about this. Most of us are used to SWOT and PESTLE analysis already, and that is well understood within management. I would suggest PRs use that to support their management teams. Once you’ve developed that, you can start to scenario plan.
‘How do we close the gap between PR and the board? Organisations are closely aligned across the industry – that one-in-five number is consistent in every piece of research I’ve been able to find, from the 80s onwards.’as
4) Demonstrate the value of PR to your c-suite
‘Value is what gets attention at the C-suite level; money does still talk,’ said Rachel.
‘The challenge of PR is that you can’t always see the contribution to the bottom line. In the 70s, the non-tangible aspects of the balance sheet were pretty low. CEOs, now, are about creating value – if we can demonstrate how PR can create that intangible value, we can get attention.
‘PRs come to attention for “doing stuff”. But we aren’t just the “doers”. We’re always thinking three steps ahead; the strategic piece. That has parity with the C-suite. We already have the same mindset as a great CEO or C-suite team.
‘There is so much more data now to demonstrate the effectiveness, though we can get caught up in that; the C-suite can latch on to data and want instant gratification. But in other areas, people know it takes a few years to get ROI. It takes some time to move the dial here as well. We have to have that long-term strategic investment.
‘But first, we need to get into the boardroom and adopt the same style as other professions.’
Watch the full From tactical to critical: Why PR belongs at the top table webinar and download the white paper From tactical to critical: Why PR belongs at the top table for more on this subject.