Why should public relations be an integral element in your company’s core activities in the next financial year – and stake a rightful place in its annual budget?
In a February 2023 joint report from the Institute of Directors (IoD) and the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) – entitled The Role of Public Relations in Strategic Planning and Crisis Preparedness – Jonathan Geldart, Director General of the IoD, said: “Public relations has a significant role to play in organisational decision making, promoting awareness and protecting reputation. I would encourage all boardrooms to consider how best to invest in this important management function.”
In the same report Sarah Waddington, past CIPR president and IoD Ambassador, said: “…public relations, with its ability to aid decision making and engage stakeholders, is integral to influential leadership and organisational success.”
But what role do business leaders perceive for public relations in their organisations?
More than engaging with the media
An IoD members’ survey (which generated more than 100 responses) reflected the activities they typically associated with public relations, in descending order: media relations, PR campaigns/programmes, social media relations, crisis management, stakeholder mapping and engagement, public affairs/lobbying, copywriting and editing and internal communications.
However, fewer than 50% recognised PR’s role in marketing, strategic planning, risk assessment and crisis preparedness, influencer relations, research/evaluation and measurement, defining mission/values and horizon scanning.
This is a missed opportunity for companies to improve their business planning and execution of activities directly related to building trusted relationships with key audiences and protecting reputation.
For example, the IoD/CIPR report’s special focus on strategic planning – authored by Dr John White, chartered psychologist and honorary fellow of the CIPR – advises organisations to:
- “Review the extent of qualified public relations involvement in strategic planning regarding management of relationships crucial to the organisation – and be prepared to act promptly on advice.”
And, on the subject of stakeholder mapping and engagement, Professor Anne Gregory of University of Huddersfield, one of the UK’s leading PR academics, says:
- So-called “stakeholder capitalism” demands that companies have to define their purpose and Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) credentials to justify their licence to operate.
- Therefore, companies need to know who their current and future stakeholders are and how to build relationships with them for mutual benefit.
Public relations professionals typically have the skills to build profiles of stakeholders and understand the key topics of interest to them.
And the underlying message is clear: organisations that fail to take public relations seriously – both in the sense of their relationship with their key stakeholders as well as the breadth of expertise available in qualified communications professionals – or relegate it to a menial function with no strategic value, are doing worse than missing a trick.
A recent report into the rise in brand-related public relations activity on the PR Moment website highlighted several reasons for this, including:
- The value of storytelling rather than hard selling (i.e. not focusing everything on your product, but how it fits into another organisation’s success).
- Building credibility through third party advocacy – such as media mentions filtered through the lens of respected journalists and publications.
But, in addition to this, public relations helps build brands:
- Especially in complex industries, where companies need to be able to translate their technology or concepts into something that anyone across the customer’s decision-making unit can understand – not just the technical director.
- When taking a new or merged company to market, sometimes with limited funds, public relations can deliver not only value for money in terms of the communications activities and assets (such as reports, white papers and other content), but bring a level of creativity to help elevate the visibility and memorability of a new company or product.
It is also a time of opportunity for business because of the level of trust it commands, according to the latest Edelman Trust Barometer. This annual research, conducted among 32,000 people across 28 countries, this year found business to be the “only institution viewed as both competent and ethical”, with government trailing by 11 points.
As the report says: “As the most trusted institution, business should leverage its comparative advantage to inform debate and deliver solutions on climate, diversity/equity/inclusion (DEI) and skill training.”
Public relations has probably been to blame for allowing a one-dimensional view of its work and value to emerge. In the pre-internet and self-publishing era, it was the de facto owner of the relationship between organisations and the media, so eternally hitching itself to the practice of media relations. While important, even today, this ignored the wider application of public relations methods and the much deeper role it can play in the fortunes of any organisation and the people it serves. From helping companies make complex buying decisions about technology to the NHS encouraging people to get early screening for cancers, public relations is at work.
Experienced and qualified public relations – collaborating with organisations’ senior directors, marketing teams and HR departments, to name a few – is well placed to provide insightful guidance and practical support in an ever-more competitive and changing world.
Need to get the benefit from B2B public relations in your 2023-24 strategy? Contact Metamorphic PR.