Dick Jones is one of the most respected professionals in the PR consulting field. Over the years, his company, Dick Jones Communications, has assisted more than 60 colleges and universities in the areas of public relations, story placement, media relations and crisis communications. I asked Dick to do a guest post on the role of the PR professional.
Arthur W. Page was a very smart man. He was the first corporate vice president of what today is known as public relations, taking that post in the 1920s for American Telephone and Telegraph Company.
Page “got it” from the start. He knew that sending the company’s messages to key publics was only half the job. The other half—and the more important part—was to inform AT&T and to provide counsel on what the public was thinking and feeling about any topic that could impact the firm.
The PR Department, said Page, “…ought to bring to the management at all times what it thinks the public is going to feel about a thing.”
Public relations scholars agree. Think how much heartache could be avoided if this occurred routinely. This mandate, however, is ignored more often than observed and that is not because PR professionals don’t believe in it or understand it. It is ignored because senior management does not believe in it or understand it.
Unfortunately, PR pros who sense trouble ahead and alert management to it are often running risks, especially if the trouble they spot is headed their way because of some action proposed by the organization they serve. This is particularly true within organizations that value loyalty—or rather a misplaced definition of loyalty—above all else. In such circumstances, the PR practitioner is liable to be considered disloyal or, at the very least, not a team player, if he or she has the temerity to point out problems that may arise from a particular course of action.
Of course it is not disloyal at all to point out potential public relations troubles arising from an organization’s decisions; quite the opposite, in fact. But if senior management doesn’t see it that way, it can derail a career and often has.
You can get a sense of the value an organization places on honest, reasoned feedback by whether or not the public relations function is included in senior management. If PR pros are present at the creation of policy, that’s a good sign. If, however, PR is “represented” in the councils of top management by some other staff function which then “interprets” management policy to the PR staff, that’s not such a good sign.
PR people who find themselves in the latter position will want to:
(1) see if they can find a “seat at the table” where they can provide feedback to senior management;
(2) resign themselves to doing only half of the job they are supposed to do;
(3) update their resume and look for a place that values the full public relations function.