Why PR Pros Are Critical to Strategic Plan Positioning

May 2021
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In her 2018 article, “Change Management Communication: Barriers, Strategies & Messaging,” Dr. Marlene Neill, APR, Fellow PRSA, assistant professor at Baylor University, examined the role of PR professionals in an ever-changing world. She interviewed internal communicators across multiple business and nonprofit sectors to learn more about what aided them in implementing a particular change management strategy — or what kept them from providing the communication support necessary for a successful launch. 

One interviewee, the director of internal communications at a healthcare organization that had recently merged with another hospital, was brought in at the last minute to assist with an internal communication rollout. She described a leadership team eager to announce the merger — and a communications team left empty-handed when it came to assets and information: 

“Honestly, it’s very piecemeal… We don’t have any logo; we don’t know who’s in leadership roles. There are a number of things in internal comms that you would like to see happen before you announce this to your staff, so that there are some answers… But those things didn’t happen… our collaboration on how we’re going to make this integration go well is very fly by night.” 

Piecemeal. Fly by night. All too often, internal communication teams are brought in at the 11th hour, after integral decisions have already been made, and asked to achieve the impossible. Or, worse, they aren’t brought in at all. Implementing a strategic plan without a solid communication strategy can display a lack of transparency, leave audiences feeling confused, and cause the plan to fall short of its potential.  

But it doesn’t have to be this way. As a communications professional, if you can make your way into the room early, engage with leadership and promote your value, then you’ll be better positioned to develop plans that successfully support a larger strategy. 

Steps for securing your seat at the table  

In their industry textbook, “Effective Public Relations,” authors Allen Center, Glen Broom and Scott Cutlip define public relations as “…the management function that establishes and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and the publics on whom its success or failure depends.”

At its core, public relations is relationship management. You are responsible for cultivating and strengthening relationships both in and outside of your organization — a role that makes you vital to your organization’s forward momentum. In short, your presence is necessary for lasting success. 

Here are some steps you can take to position yourself as an essential resource and strategic partner. 

 1. Establish yourself as a trusted collaborator.

Don’t miss an opportunity to promote your value and remind leadership that your skills and insight can help establish the vision and direction of where the organization is heading. After all, a strategic plan is bound to fall short of its full potential if it isn’t accompanied by a plan for communicating its importance.  

Engage leadership whenever possible, whether it’s in your next Zoom meeting or in a rare in-person encounter to build a solid rapport and earn the trust of the C-suite or other dominant coalition. Fostering that sense of trust will help ensure you’re seen as a go-to resource when strategic planning begins. 

2. Be proactive.   

Now more than ever, anticipating communication needs is essential to staying ahead of what feels like constant change. By actively listening to employees and staying on top of current events, both in and outside of your organization, you’ll position yourself to jump in and move forward with management the moment the opportunity arises. 

3. Do your homework. 

Take in valuable information at every turn and never miss a chance to learn more about the organization. Understanding challenges and audiences on a deeper level can help you select the right messages and disseminate them to the right people at the right time. Doing your research will help you anticipate key milestones and engagement points along the way. 

4. Ask big questions. Bring big ideas. 

Your perspective is unique, and the nature of your role means you often have deeper insight into the thoughts and concerns of employees and external stakeholders alike. 

How can you help your organization adapt moving forward? How can your team position itself at the forefront of inspiring employees and communicating change? What do you know and understand that could help strengthen the introduction of a new initiative? Show up to meetings with big ideas and, chances are, leadership will extend a standing invitation. 

5. Don’t wait to step up. 

Strategic planning is essential to any organization — public or private, big or small — because it creates a compass, a road map and a vision for the direction the organization is heading. Without a communication strategy and support from your team, a strategic plan may be doomed to fail — but you have the power to help it succeed. 

As a communications professional, your expertise puts you in the perfect position to establish mutual trust with leadership, anticipate opportunities, offer game-changing ideas and strengthen an overall strategy. Your organization needs you at the table. Don’t wait to claim your seat. ϖ

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