This article was originally published in 2015 and has been completely updated in 2020.
CEOs often think of marketing and PR in similar terms. So it is in your interest as a public relations professional to strengthen your relationship with marketers in your organization and establish a solid combined front.
Firstly, you can jointly analyze your organization’s priorities as expressed in the organizational mission statement and strategic goals, and ensure your activities directly and measurably support them.
Look especially at the organizational business strategies that have the most potential financial impact and then examine the potential for communication activities to influence each of those business strategies. Focus your actions on the high-impact business strategies that communication can influence the most. Get your marketing colleagues to do this analysis for their work as well.
If clarification about organizational strategy is needed, simply arrange a meeting with your CEO (or your boss, if you don’t report to the CEO) and ask for clarification. Perhaps your CEO (or boss) hasn’t articulated their strategic priorities clearly. If in doubt, ask! The more you deal with the chief at a strategic level, the better.
If you don’t normally deal with senior management, this action is a plus for you – showing your spirit and initiative. Having achieved agreement to a meeting, the onus is on you to prepare carefully with a series of questions or issues that need to be resolved. You can provide your issues paper to the CEO or your boss ahead of time so they have the opportunity to think through their responses.
One astute way to take the initiative is to refer to research findings about CEO expectations as the agenda for your meeting with the chief. You can use this opportunity to confirm what your CEO expects from you and your organization’s marketers. The initiative may prompt them to allow you to play a more strategic role, to:
You can say that research has shown that many CEOs expect their marketing to make an impact in the above areas and that PR can as well. Then you can briefly outline your thoughts on how you would use PR to make a difference in those areas. Or you may decide to focus tightly on, say, 1-3 of those areas, with your outline strategy for making an impact with your limited resources.
As a PR professional, you are ideally placed to use communication to contribute to the achievement of most of these goals. Also sit down with the head of marketing and review how you can jointly achieve some of these imperatives.
If the CEO and senior management don’t seem able to articulate their strategic priorities sufficiently, you could prepare a paper based on your analysis of communication’s role in influencing the outcomes of high-impact business strategies, as noted earlier, and put it to them for comment.
Not all PR practitioners either have the intellectual firepower or experience to pursue the dream of working at a strategic level. Also, circumstances may not be conducive to this role. In this case, you can seek advice from a mentor or respected peer or gradually build up a more strategic role over time by thinking through the areas quoted above in which you can make the most effective contribution, and you can start with them. Chip away at these matters systematically and you will find you have made remarkable progress. You can start by tackling ‘the low hanging fruit’, the activities in which you can make significant progress quickly.
A large part of strategic thinking is simply thinking ahead. Anyone can do this. Look at your calendar of events and allocate thinking time about those events, particularly events that could benefit from cross-functional input. You can take on the role of coordinating the involvement of people from other areas within your organization for relevant activities. And ensure you compare notes with your marketing colleagues so that you can coordinate well with them.
No matter the size of your organization, insist on inclusion in marketing planning activities so that PR can contribute in a more strategic way to new marketing projects. All too often, marketing people plan the big campaign and, at the very end, think, “We’d better call in the PR people to get some free publicity for the product launch.” NO, NO, NO!
This is ignorance and arrogance in action. If you accept this patronizing approach, you will find senior managers view you as a perennial lightweight and they don’t involve you in the things that matter. Whether you are in-house or a consultant, get out of your comfort zone and absolutely insist on being an integral member of all marketing planning meetings from the start. (Having achieved this, you must be prepared to contribute ideas actively so that you add value by your presence!)
And ensure you reciprocate – you should involve the head of marketing in the planning of your communication strategies, or at the least, give them an opportunity to comment on draft communication strategies.
Wise heads of PR and marketing work in alliance because there are obvious benefits from doing this, including internal political benefits. You can attend each other’s meetings, you can learn each other’s language, show respect for each other’s function, and agree to work on joint projects that will add value quickly. Explore ways for you to work with marketing to achieve some joint wins. Look at low cost, tangible measures of the PR effort. (This cooperation is based on the crucial assumption that you believe your marketing people are sufficiently competent!)
There would also be cost advantages in joint activities such as measurement – in market research, communication audits and customer feedback activities. Also, as a PR operative, you can add value in areas such as corporate and employer branding.
When you have achieved a more strategic role in marketing communication you should communicate or ‘sell’ your strategic achievements to senior management through regular brief written reports (whether they ask for it or not), in organizational publications, in briefings when opportunities arise, such as on a topical issue, and in other meetings you may have with senior managers. Too often we promote the work of others and neglect to promote our own achievements. This communication will pay handsomely in terms of senior management respect for you and will enhance your career advancement.
This article was updated in February 2020.
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