Every professional communicator is surrounded by people who don’t understand communication. Executives from operations, accounting, finance, administration, HR, legal, sales and marketing really don’t understand the PR function. Clients usually don’t understand, either.
Should this concern you? Yes, indeed. When other people don’t understand your professionalism, then they under-estimate your value. You will find they think PR is easy – because you make it look easy. You do the hard work out of sight behind the scenes and then produce a smooth, professional result that looks a lot simpler than it actually is.
“The communication profession is the living embodiment of complexity. Communication is complex, fluid and often misunderstood. It is a function, but it is also a constitutive part of organisations and organising in a way that other professions are not. It is perfectly possible for organisations to operate without buildings, money or products, but it is not possible for them to exist without communication.”
– Professor Anne Gregory, former Chair of the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management
As a consultant, I found the national chairman of one of the big four accounting firms in the world thought PR was easy because my consultancy arranged a very successful media relations program for him and his firm over a couple of years. The same with the general manager of a big football club. They thought they could save money and do their own PR after seeing how easy we made media relations look. But they fell flat on their faces when they tried to do it themselves because they didn’t understand the extent and intensity of professionalism needed.
Corporate managers show the same lack of understanding – most of them are much less effective than they should be as a result. Leadership is communication. Unfortunately, corporate managers, especially those from a technical area such as engineering or finance, have little idea of its importance.
Even the top management consultants in the world don’t understand the crucial importance of communication. You will find that McKinsey & Company, the world’s most influential management firm, refer to communication just in passing while they write in lofty terms about various management concepts whose success is based on good communication.
However, organizations that communicate well get proven results.
How you can make your case
So what can you do to improve the situation? There are no magic bullets, unfortunately, but you can build up a strong case for PR over time:
• Show evidence of a good ROI on each PR activity – measure the outcomes of every significant project you do.
• Use facts and data to support each case you make on behalf of PR. Point to the findings of focus groups, research and precedents from elsewhere.
• Be assertive in your dealings with management as a result of the previous two points.
• Influencers. Ensure you cultivate formal and informal influencers of others in the organization so they can give you more credibility from their third-party role.
By Silvia Arto, Vice President of the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management, Chair of the European Regional
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