Academic journal article Public Relations Journal

How Public Relations Professionals Help CEOs Make the Right Moves

Academic journal article Public Relations Journal

How Public Relations Professionals Help CEOs Make the Right Moves

Article excerpt

Within the public relations profession, the ability to influence strategic planning varies widely. Some practitioners get involved in developing game plans at the highest corporate level, while others simply implement communications moves once a strategy is set by others.

When you are called in after the 17th move of a chess game, your only option is to make the 18th move," writer and publisher William F. Buckley, Jr. once observed. The glib-tongued pundit was responding to a question about what he would do if he were called in to handle a particularly nettlesome situation rapidly drawing to a climax.

Such a situation is familiar to many public relations practitioners. When some significant piece of our enterprise becomes threatened, we are expected to make all the right moves and get it out of jeopardy. But, rather than the knight rushing to the rescue, sometimes we feel like just another pawn on the organizational chessboard.

While handling a crisis is a hallmark skill for seasoned practitioners, helping management avoid the crisis in the first place is a far more valuable talent to the organizations we represent. And the most effective way to exercise that talent is to gain a seat at strategic planning sessions, where the opening moves are mapped out.

Within the public relations profession, the ability to influence strategic planning varies widely. Some practitioners exert significant influence and are frequently consulted on strategy development; others report little or no role in strategic planning.

To determine how and at what point public relations professionals get into the game of strategic planning, the authors contacted both communicators and those outside public relations who participate in strategic planning. Through personal interviews and a literature search, we concluded that two strong elements govern the amount of strategic influence that public relations can exercise: corporate culture and individual ability.

Companies with a culture that recognizes the importance of the so-called "soft side" of strategic development tend to include communicators on their strategic planning teams, according to Conference Board Research Report #915: "Getting Value from Strategic Planning."

The "soft side" of development tends to formalize such tasks as awareness building, the creation of teams, free discussion of options, testing of ideas, consensus building, formation of coalitions and extant politics, the report states. In contrast, the "hard side" includes elements such as quantitative risk analysis, hurdle rates, competitive performance profiles and scenario planning.

Transcend normal boundaries

The ability to transcend the boundaries of their own craft and analyze and understand the needs and strategies of their operating and support units also helps some public relations professionals gain a place at strategy sessions. Herb Schmertz who directed Mobil Corp.'s communications during the 1970s and early '80s is frequently cited in this regard.

Unlike Schmertz, who is an attorney by training, most communicators come from a liberal arts/humanities background. Understanding the chief financial officer's double subordinated debenture issue or examining some marketer's regression analysis can be a challenge that many public relations specialists are not equipped to meet.

"Many public relations people fantasize their roles in strategic planning, but few are really involved in any meaningful fashion," complained one well-known principal of a top public relations firm. As proof, he cited answers to a pollster's questions at a recent, exclusive gathering of high-level practitioners. Only two of 75 attendees could respond in the affirmative to the question, "How many of you have an M.B.A.?" And no one in the audience had ever "held a line position" in his or her organization.

As a result of this poll, the firm CEO concluded that public relations is a narrow specialty. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.