The Critical Audience That PR Pros Often Overlook

May 2021
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Many business professionals believe that PR teams should be brought in after plans are laid to simply “promote” these plans and their outcomes. However, the PR team has the best shot at positively influencing external stakeholders when brought into conversations early, as positioning and strategy are being shaped.

PR professionals who demonstrate their strategic thinking and proactively advocate for themselves within their organization will be able to improve external perceptions by shaping their organization’s programs and outputs. To do this, PR professionals must create a foundation of trust and understanding among colleagues. 

Here are some tips that in-house PR practitioners can use to position themselves as trusted counselors to their colleagues:

1. Build your tribe. 

The benefits of external networking are well documented. However, the benefits of networking within your organization are discussed far less, though they can be equally, if not more, powerful. 

When was the last time you took inventory of your internal network? While most people have friends in the office, they are usually just that — friends. Think about actively connecting with key players laterally and vertically in your organization. Look for individuals who can guide you through internal politics, broker conversations among unconnected parties, and enlist allies when you need it. 

To develop a robust internal network, consider supporting recruitment efforts when other departments have vacancies, leading volunteer projects, or hosting social events such as happy hours. You might also volunteer through your HR department to be an onboarding “buddy” when new hires join the company or seek cross-department mentorship.

These activities will help you gain visibility; they may also help you to identify and mitigate future PR problems and connect with colleagues who may be valuable during a media crisis.

2. Get into “the room where it happens.”

PR professionals are often left out of critical conversations and find themselves tasked with promoting programs, products and projects after it’s too late to make significant changes.

To get an invite into the room where big decisions are made, use your growing network to get your foot in the door, or join other company teams and activities, even if they don’t necessarily pertain to your role. Get to know more about what people are working on in other departments. As you learn about a program or project, let colleagues know that collaboration is a crucial part of the PR team’s job and that bringing the PR team into the conversation early on can prevent costly mistakes.

It also pays dividends to sign up for ad hoc or standing interdepartmental committees or become familiar with those who serve on them. You’ll get face time with colleagues in other departments, demonstrate your strategic thinking skills, and promote the knowledge and expertise that the PR team can bring to the table, such as leveraging key data to shape effective messaging. 

3. Share success stories companywide. 

We work in a profession that’s always trying to stay ahead of the curve. We’re constantly looking toward the future or the next big project, and it’s rare to get a moment to stop and reflect on what we’ve achieved. Sharing case studies of PR successes with colleagues in your organization is another fairly easy, yet commonly overlooked, way to build that foundation of trust.

Sharing these successes can be as easy as asking your internal communications team to share two or three top media placements in the companywide newsletter, with a brief description of the support that your team provided.  Another way to share your successes is for the PR team to contribute periodic reports or notes to key leaders showcasing the team’s achievements and summarizing how a smart communications strategy benefits the company.

4. Communicate your role, expectations and value.

Many of your business colleagues don’t understand the true scope and depth of what PR practitioners do. Be prepared to set expectations and even overcommunicate when engaging with colleagues for the first time. Clearly defining your goals and detailing how the PR team will carry out its responsibilities will provide clarity to your colleagues and allow your team to work with them more collaboratively. 

In addition, explain how insights into stakeholder sentiment can be beneficial in deciding messaging and communications tactics for the program, product or project that you’ve agreed to support. 

Throughout your work with colleagues, provide regular updates on your team’s support and inform them of other external news that can affect your business. The PR team can become an indispensable part of other leadership teams by providing an early-warning system and sharing information from monitoring social and traditional media channels. 

These actions can help you give thoughtful counsel that garners the respect of your colleagues.

5. Consider how to organize your department.

PR can provide strategic value when it plays a role in each department through horizontal integration across the company. 

Think about ways to update the organizational structure to give PR teams access to colleagues who might not otherwise benefit from your advice and expertise. By interacting with them regularly, well before key decisions are made, colleagues will start to look to the PR team for input and collaboration. Doing so will enable you to create lasting change in your organization. 

PR professionals can harness the power of the communications function in their organizations by effectively building and managing relationships, communicating their capabilities and sharing their accomplishments. By proactively advocating for your team, you can become a trusted colleague and a driving force in your organization.  

Return to Current Issue Crisis Management: Expecting the Unexpected | May 2021
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