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Ways to prove your worth with senior management

01 Jun, 2020 PR management, Proving PR value

This article was originally published in 2015 and has been completely updated in 2020.

Proving our worth as communicators can be a real challenge, especially during tough economic times, but some astute professionals ensure they can prove the value of their work by using some thought.

Meet with senior managers to understand their priorities and concerns

Smart professionals meet with senior managers, especially line (divisional) managers to find out what are the major problems on their minds. Then they develop communication activities to directly help solve those problems. This process not only helps them develop a closer relationship with senior management, but helps them understand the business better. PR and communication staff are notorious for not going to the trouble to find out how a business ticks. Consequently, divisional people tend to regard communicators as just being a head office overhead who are not much help to them. Going to this effort will impress those senior managers.

Break through the silos

Develop positive relationships with other departments. Organizations are well known for developing ‘silo’ mentalities, in which people from one department don’t get around to liaise with or understand what is happening in other departments. If you get out of your comfort zone and catch up with the managers of other departments, they will respect you more and you will find out a lot of useful information. For instance, speak with the HR manager about internal communication and events in the HR area, with the marketing manager about new product and brand initiatives, with production about what is happening there and so on.

Measure results, not activity

When it comes to evaluating your results, don’t refer to outputs, refer to outcomes. Too many communicators take the easy way out and use media mentions, visitor traffic, social media responses etc. Those variables aren’t a measure of value; they just measure activity. Instead, you need to dig deeper and think through how your communication activities are achieving a business impact. Look at what employees are doing with the information you provide in articles. Have they used it to provide better customer service or better internal efficiency? You can tell by asking them or holding focus groups with some of them.

Develop influence within the organization

Julie O’Neil conducted a survey 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 corporate public relations practitioners’ 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.

Four measures were found to contribute most to the organizational influence of corporate public relations practitioners:

  • Perceptions of value. Perceptions of value have the greatest impact on public relations practitioners’ organizational influence, based upon their ability to solve problems for the organization. Perceptions of value relate to the relative importance that the dominant coalition (senior management) believes the practitioner possesses relative to other employees.
  • Performance in their role as manager.
  • Reporting relationship. Reporting to the CEO, President or Chairman is perceived as more influential compared with reporting to a level of management below that.
  • Length of professional experience also is valued *

Upward influence

Upward influence tactics are communication messages employed to persuade a more senior staff member in order to facilitate achievement of an organizational objective. The three most important upward influence tactics are:

  • Rationality – the use of facts and data to support a logical argument or to alter the thinking of a supervisor.
  • 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].

A reality check

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

  • Formal inclusion in the dominant coalition didn’t necessarily contribute to organizational influence.
  • Quality interactions with the dominant coalition seemed more important than the amount of time practitioners spent in the networks of the dominant coalition [quality versus quantity].
  • Also, ingratiating tactics like flattery didn’t earn greater respect; they created a negative response instead.

* Source: Julie O’Neil. (2003). An investigation of the sources of influence of corporate public relations practitioners. Public Relations Review, volume 29.

This article was updated in 2020.

About the author Kim Harrison

Kim Harrison loves sharing actionable ideas and information about professional communication and business management. He has wide experience as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer, and CEO of a non-profit organization. Kim is a Fellow and former national board member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, and he ran his State’s professional development program for 7 years, helping many practitioners to strengthen their communication skills. People from 115 countries benefit from the practical knowledge shared in his monthly newsletter and in the eBooks available from cuttingedgepr.com.

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