Coming from a pure Operations background, the world of Public Relations (PR) and Media seemed glitzy and glamorous from the outside. Whilst my core role revolved around business operations, I leveraged my interest in people & writing to take on additional responsibility on topics such as Employee Engagement, Executive Communication and the likes. Therefore, it was no surprise when the role of leading the Corporate Communications department for the Group came my way, I was raring to go and be included in the hallowed circles of ‘glitz & the glam’. Boy, was I in for a surprise!
As the corporate communications lead, the first thing I did was hire the “right people”: individuals who had core PR consultancy experience. In parallel, I read everything I could to broaden my knowledge which included buying lunches for experts whose brains I could chew on.
Moral of the story – a) No amount of reading prepares you for Ground Zero in your role as a communications practitioner b) Doing is learning and making mistakes helps sharpen your saw. I can’t claim to be an expert, far from it, but over time I do have some observations on the evolution of PR, first as an outsider and now having worked in the trenches.
Let’s examine the role of a communications professional – she/he is no longer the “grammar checker of emails or the mass producer of press releases for the MD’s office. The days when an organisation rallied around the communications team in times of crisis communication are also long over.
So, what exactly is Corporate Communications all about? The ever-trusted Wikipedia describes it as
Corporate communication is a set of activities involved in managing and orchestrating all internal and external communications aimed at creating a favourable point of view among stakeholders on which the company depends.
This essentially makes the communications team responsible for the reputation of the company, we are the gatekeepers of our brand’s reputation – the great wall, if you will.
Today, our department is engaged in assessing and addressing the potential risks that could affect the reputation of the company, its people and the brand. Not only are we the custodians of our company’s reputation but we also play a crucial role on how investors, employees and the public perceive our company. We are the ambassadors whose communication has the potential to shape culture, enable better decisions, build an engaged workforce, factors that ultimately lead to a company’s success!
The communications team must be the first adopters of market disruptors like technology or new trends and be the trailblazers for the company. In this digital age “we are what we say”, and while social media is one of the key enablers and a critical tool for communication it can also be a double-edged sword. Whilst social media provides opportunities to directly “influence” key stakeholders and clients whose opinions can be fundamental to a company’s long-term success, if the product/service is questionable, it can be a great equalizer, as there are no kid gloves out there and a spade is called a spade.
The evolution of the communications professional has also ensured that PR folks catch up and are no longer limited to the cookie-cutter approach of liaising with a limited set of journos to get the next press release out there.
Today’s PR professional is evolving from the traditional “consultancy person” to a business partner, more like a well-rounded consultant. Media planning is no longer the piece-de-resistance it used to be, its story telling and digital campaigning that PR folks are now championing. Many of what were deemed as traditional PR firms are now hiring domain consultants to shape communications and mould public perception. I wouldn’t be surprised if in the foreseeable future, communications becomes the catch-all for advertising, PR, marketing and the like.
In my role as the communications lead, I experienced a lacuna between us and the consultancy and have come to realize that a symbiosis between the communications team and the PR firm is the bedrock on which two teams must work as one to achieve success.
Here’s my secret sauce or things that have worked for me:
- Provide thorough briefs – Include all context & content. Making the consultancy fill in the blanks is not productive and a complete drain on resources.
- Communicate ad nauseam if you must – Provide as much industry knowledge as you can – do not wait for an event – keep the firm armed and prepped for every and all eventualities.
- People accessibility – Do not become the barrier between leadership and the consultancy, give them access to the spokespersons/leadership teams. In a similar vein, the consultancy account lead must allow team access to the company communications lead – symbiosis!
- One goal, one team and one experience – Treat the consultancy as an extension of your team and not your vendor. A vendor is just that – but your team is your team.
- Collaborate – Not just on PR – get them to give opinions on internal communications or social media strategies – make the environment inclusive.
- Face time – Meet regularly and not just to review programmatic work, but also to share notes, views and learnings – even better if it’s done over coffee or stronger spirits whichever the case may be.
In conclusion, both communications and PR firm teams should be at the center of brand imaging. I believe it is this collaboration that can wield greater influence and power to shape the business focus and manage the public perception of a brand. Last but not the least – the consultancy is as good or as bad as us – mirror images do not lie!
The views expressed here are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of Reputation Today.