The question of whether we need to redefine PR so people better understand it is one that’s chewed over constantly by those of us who work in PR.
The answer is very simple. PR doesn’t need a new definition. It needs reframing in terms of how we approach it both personally and with potential employers.
A simple change in mindset offers the opportunity for us all to become better PR practitioners.
It also allows us to unlock the full potential of public relations as a management discipline and demonstrate the role it plays in achieving organisational success.
Are you approaching PR right?
Depending on the route you take into the profession and the attitude to PR of the people you’re working for, it can be very easy to get drawn into the public relations as media relations trap.
It’s a mindset that ought to be banished and we all have a responsibility to dispel the myth. When used correctly, PR is about reputation, influence and behavioural change.
A huge step change will come when management courses finally stop teaching executives just to expect media coverage from their chosen consultants.
These future leaders need to learn that public relations professionals can help management teams find organisational purpose, agree and test company principles and keep the public that the business is there to serve front of mind.
This is important when you consider the definition of PR from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations: “Public Relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.”
Building and maintaining a positive reputation for a company requires much more than sending out press releases on a daily basis. It takes long-term engagement through comms activity based on insight and relevance.
What’s more, the strategic PR function has to link back to the strategic objectives of the organisation or the true value can’t possibly be derived.
What’s the business benefit?
The CIPR’s definition of public relations is hardly an elevator pitch that captures the true diversity of PR’s role but it’s a good start at illustrating the focus it has on relationship building.
In order to improve your value as a PR practitioner, the trick is to shift away from thinking about tactics and outputs and much more holistically about the business benefit that public relations can bring.
All of a sudden, this changes how you focus on what you do, how you talk about it with people and the approach you take to your continuous professional development (CPD).
It can mean the difference between simply accepting a media relations brief and not knowing what part this activity has played in driving the company forward.
It can mean asking more pertinent questions about how the work fits into the overall strategy.
For example, asking how is it being evaluated, whether this is the appropriate course of action and what other communications support might be needed.
Have you got the appropriate skillset?
Talking about PR as a management discipline means you have to be confident in what you do and have the skillset to back it up.
Reviewing your CPD goals is a good start – if these are purely based around shoring yourself up tactically, you’re not going far enough.
Good public relations consultants need to have strategic, leadership and ethical capabilities. They also need to understand how organisations work and are likely to have completed management and finance courses or non-executive director programmes.
Public relations is a powerful management tool and the department that businesses should look to, in order to lead the wider marketing function.
We need to step up and prove we have the experience, knowledge and capabilities to do this. Get this right and the need to continually assert PR’s value will cease.