Public relations or communications are sometimes still managed by marketing departments, which is now quite dated. Traditionally, marketing encompassed advertising, marketing research, events, sales (maybe), and sometimes public relations.
With corporate branding and reputation being critical to businesses, the need for PR to work directly with the C-suite leadership has become the smart thing to do. If there is a crisis, or even a hiccup, C-suite leadership can work immediately and directly with PR to address issues and expediently mitigate them. Any delay in addressing these problems well can be met with disdain or uproar in public, which in turn become even more of a crisis.
Moreover, the role of marketing has traditionally been about lead generation, market entry, and sales enablement. Their entire role is quite different from that of PR. PR is about corporate reputation and its nurture and protection. Worse, while PR needs to be at the forefront of corporate and product awareness and so can help the C-suite leadership to answer tough questions out there in the market, including regulators and the media, marketing departments may not have the same urgency or the situation where they become hard-pressed by external entities for answers.
Tone of voice
Also, the tone of voice in PR, whether for daily communication or under duress, is very different from sales and marketing programs. Sales pitches can be assertive and persuasive, just as advertising campaigns may sometimes be a little exaggerated. PR, however, must never be. All communication in the PR sphere should be true, authentic, empathetic, and even humble, especially in a crisis. This means communicators who excel in PR, will need to have very unique and comprehensive understanding of what will work for all the stakeholders, and how best to convey it, whether that be media, governments, channels, customers, educational institutions, and also internal audiences within the business.
Moving PR to work with C-suite
If you have not already, it is time to quickly change your reporting structure. Move your PR department, if there is one, to report directly to your CEO or president. The marketing department, along with finance, products, and supply chain departments, should have common communications with the PR department, so that any product or business related news will be fed quickly without delay to the PR department. This is to prevent potential crises arising because of customer service, sales, delivery, channels, and other complaints and problems escalating into public uproar.
The PR department should be positioned along with the C-suite, rather than a backend department. This will ensure that all functional departments will communicate the critical information on time to the PR department to prevent small problems escalating into big incidents.
And as businesses scale, the need for external PR agency partners become paramount. It is impossible to do great PR unless you have on-ground help, and since businesses are not in the core business of PR, while PR agencies are, it makes financial sense to work with experts in the field to get the job done.
Internal communications system
Communications should be simple and efficient. Messaging apps such as Whatsapp and Telegram are not the most business-friendly tools, although they work well in informal or ad hoc settings. For accountable and auditable communications, it is best to set up a proper internal system where all information and communication can be tracked, tweaked, and published for internal consumption.
Such a system can be as simple as a local wiki or micro-site. Open source software such as FreeScout (freescout.net) would be a great option to install and self-host, without the need to rely on third parties. If you like, you can also install help desk plugins on top of a content management system (CMS) website, such as using WordPress. Queries, answers, documents, progress. results, and recommendations, can all be fielded on such an internal system. And of course, everything is traceable, so during issues and crises, the C-suite and concerned functional leaders can approach the right internal colleagues to resolve issues until completion.
Times have changed. the most enlightened CEOs of businesses now have PR heads report directly to them, and have them early on at all stages of business and product lifecycles, and are looking at PR as the main strategy and platform to protect and nurture the corporate brand. Have you?
Seamus Phan has 35 years of professional experience. Polymath Problem-Solver & Strategist – Leadership, Cybersecurity, Branding, Crisis, Scientist, Artist, Author, Aviation, and Theologian. Some articles are reproduced at McGallen & Bolden, where he is CTO and Head of Content. Connect on LinkedIn. ©1984-2023.