Become more influential in your corporate PR role

Influence at work is an elusive quest. We all seek how to create more influence for ourselves among our workplace peers and bosses. Some people know intuitively how to become more influential, but most of us grapple with the right formula for success.

Julie O’Neil conducted a fascinating study of 309 US corporate PR practitioners to determine what factors contribute most to the organizational influence of corporate public relations practitioners, and what types of upward influence tactics have the most impact on their organizational influence. She found a strong relationship between perceptions of value and organizational influence, which implies that much of a public relations practitioner’s power is fluid and informal rather than formal. These findings have stood the test of time. She wrote the article in 2003, and her conclusions are still valid because human nature doesn’t change.

Key organizational influence factors

O’Neil identified four factors that contribute most to the positive organizational influence of corporate public relations practitioners:

  • Perceptions of value – these have the greatest impact on PR practitioners’ organizational influence, based upon our ability to solve problems for the organization. Perceptions of value relate to the relative importance that senior management believe we possesses relative to other employees. We need to show evidence of a good ROI and therefore should measure the outcomes of every significant project we do.
  • Performance in the managerial role – this seems obvious – we should be able to build a record as effective managers and organisers.
  • Reporting relationship – reporting to the CEO, President or Chairman is perceived as more influential compared with reporting to a lower level of management.
  • Length of professional experience also is valued. It takes time to build the confidence and trust of others.

How do we influence decision makers?

O’Neil’s research project found that the extent to which communicators exert influence up the line to our bosses and senior management can be found in three key factors of upward influence. Upward influence tactics are communication messages designed to persuade a more senior employee in order to facilitate achievement of an organizational objective.

The three most important upward influence tactics

Rationality – the use of facts and data to support a logical argument or to alter the thinking of a supervisor. Don’t just point to a growing need without evidence; point to the findings of focus groups, research and precedents from elsewhere.

Assertiveness – a direct and forceful approach

Coalition – making claims about the support of others in the organization or in the community of one’s position. [This would be consistent with Cialdini’s principle of social proof – people will do or say things that other people are doing or saying].

Surprisingly, some findings in O’Neil’s research were contrary to the view of many people:

  • Formal appointment to the executive committee doesn’t necessarily increase your influence in the organization.
  • Quality interactions with senior decision makers seem more important than the amount of time we spend networking with them [quality versus quantity].
  • Ingratiating tactics like flattery didn’t earn greater respect; instead they create a negative response [although this finding contrasts with Cialdini’s research which found nearly everyone enjoys flattery even when they know it is flattery. Perhaps the difference may in the way the flattery is delivered.]

Source: Julie O’Neil (2003). “An investigation of the sources of influence of corporate public relations practitioners.” Public Relations Review, 29(2), pp. 159-169.

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