PR behind closed doors

When public relations is discussed – in newspapers, on Twitter, in coffee shops – conversation most commonly  focusses on the latest public disaster, ethical practices, or how someone needs the magic wand of PR (if only there was one) to promote something for them.

What is less-often talked about is what goes on behind closed doors and the role that PR practitioners play in an organization’s decision-making process.

One of the key tenets that I hold to be true of the job of PR is that we must always provide our best possible advice. But what does that mean exactly and how does that play out in the boardroom?

In my experience, providing my best advice means first that I have to understand the business of my client or employer, know what the bottom line is and how the organization plans to achieve it. I have to know whether staff is engaged in the business and what clients/audiences think about the organization.

Next, I must be able to articulate this knowledge in context with whichever topic is being discussed or which decision is being made.

This often involves playing devil’s advocate – saying the unpopular thing, representing the voice of those who aren’t at that boardroom table and providing my take on what works and what doesn’t.

It means, sometimes, being unpopular.

It can be telling someone their “news” isn’t newsworthy and doesn’t warrant a news release. It can be explaining the negative short- and long-term impacts of a decision – whom the decision will affect and how it will affect them, and how that will impact the organization. It can also be advocating on behalf of a group that isn’t being heard.

Of course just because a PR professional gives advice doesn’t mean it’s always taken which is something we have to accept and then move forward in a professional manner, knowing that we’ve contributed to the discussion and, hopefully, made the decision a stronger one.

Though the role of advisor isn’t perhaps as well known as that of publicist, it’s one of the responsibilities I love best because I know that I can help my client make better decisions that more positively affect more people.

Professionally, that’s very satisfying.


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