During the last class meeting of my PR Management graduate seminar, I asked my students how business leaders see communication generally and the PR function specifically, based on portrayals in our textbook (Chuck Williams' MGMT, 5th ed.) and supplemental readings (primarily from Joel Kurtzman et al., MBA in a Book).
Their answers fell into four camps:
- Magic: communication is something that just happens; it should be viewed with suspicion and handled with caution
- Bonus: PR/comm is an afterthought; it's expendable and can be added on when resources allow
- Spin: PR is primarily media relations and it's most often associated with putting a good spin on company news; one-way communication
- Technical: PR is not strategic or part of the management team; PR people just communicate whatever decisions top management has made
Next, we talked about PR and communication as they've been taught to think of it in our PR-specific readings and their grad program overall.
- Strategic, management function; proactive and visionary; not just a technician
- Relationship building, public advocacy; more than just one-way
- Broad, flexible, adaptable, undefinable
So how can they as up-and-coming PR managers help their organizations see PR the way we see it, not the way it's portrayed in business books?
- Have confidence in yourself and explain/convince consistently; persistence over time
- Use a crisis situation to advance yourself/the function
- Prove contributions to the bottom line (long discussion about measurement ensues)
- Verse yourself in their position, understand their roles
- Ethical behavior, corporate social responsibility
- Disprove their perceptions by consistently offering more than their low expectations, particularly with information about publics and important social trends
- Have a reasonable definition of PR
- Separate yourself from non-professionals (publicists, etc.)
- Licensing, not just accreditation
- PR scholars work with business school scholars to build connections, understanding
We concluded by referring back to something we read earlier in the semester, Berger and Reber's (2006) "PR Manifesto," which concludes their book Gaining Influence in Public Relations. It begins, "HEAR THIS: I am not a flack, a shill, a barker, a hustler, or a spinner" and ends with a vow to help organizations make better decisions.
I hope my students will go out and do just that!