By Michelle Rash
While traveling a few weeks ago, I had the chance to meet some old friends for dinner. While they knew I had made the career switch from journalism to public relations, I could tell they didn’t understand exactly what I do. This is a situation I have been in several times since making the transition to public relations – there seems to be a fair amount of confusion about what public relations professionals actually do and, perhaps more importantly, about the strategic value we provide.
On some level, I understand this. Public relations professionals, and firms such as RLF, often provide a broad range of services. For my clients, on any given day I may be creating social media content, drafting a news release, working on a strategic plan and coordinating the placement of a paid advertisement.
So what is “public relations”? There are several definitions, including one recently updated by the Public Relations Society of America. But even with these definitions, explaining what it is we do, and more importantly the role we can and should serve for companies, can be difficult.
Public relations professionals are most known for the tactical things we do — securing media coverage, managing social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook, creating compelling collateral pieces, planning special events. While these things all play a role in our jobs, they downplay the most important and valuable position we can fill – that of trusted counselor.
So how can a business utilize its communications team in the most proactive, strategic way?
1. Invite them to the table. Nearly every decision a business makes has a potential communications impact. When making significant decisions, invite your public relations team to be a part of the process. Get their input up front. The more information they have, and the earlier they have it, the better they can manage communications to convey those decisions and key messages to important audiences, including customers, employees, government officials and the media.
2. Share your business goals and objectives. Every business establishes goals and priorities. Make sure your public relations team know and understands those goals. When they understand the business from the top down, including all of the goals and objectives, we can better craft the right communications strategy. This will also allow your public relations team to better prioritize their work and only focus on the core things that will have the greatest impact on your bottom line. As one of my clients explained to one of his colleagues recently: “We need people we can trust to help us achieve our goals. These are those people.”
3. Integrate them into your team. Most public relations firms have one or two primary contacts at all of their clients. However, it is crucial that that this is not the only point of contact. To have the most insight into a company, and thus to provide the most valuable advice, your public relations team should not just know the marketing person, but also key executives. If possible, they should have the chance to meet and interact with people all across the company to gain the broadest insight and perspective into the business. If you utilize multiple agencies for different communications needs, it can also be beneficial to set up regular meetings for them to make sure everyone is on the same page and moving towards the same goals.
As companies begin to plan for 2013, they should re-examine the role their public relations firms play. Are they being used just to carry out tactical executions after the strategies have been finalized? If so, it may be time to consider whether there are ways to better utilize your PR professionals. While this may involve a little more time, energy and cost on the front end, the rewards will be reflected on the bottom line.
Photo courtesy of Fotosearch Stock Photography.