Prove Public Relations Affects the Bottom Line

By Johnson, Beth | Public Relations Journal, April 1994 | Go to article overview

Prove Public Relations Affects the Bottom Line


Johnson, Beth, Public Relations Journal


If you've been daydreaming about a six-figure salary and company car, there's something you should know: how public relations affects the bottom line. Public relations experts who know the answer to this question don't have to fantasize about substantial salaries and luxury sedans. They already have both.

According to Catherine Campbell, APR, writing in a previous issue of Public Relations Journal, most CEOs acknowledge the importance of public relations. However, they have difficulty measuring the impact it has on the bottom line ("Does Public Relations Affect The Bottom Line," October 1993, page 14). In fact, the article says many corporate leaders admit they have never consciously linked public relations to their net income.

Ironically, the blame for management's apparent ignorance about this connection belongs to public relations specialists; members of a profession whose claim to fame is their ability to communicate effectively. While trying to convince upper management of their worth, these so-called specialists have broken their own fundamental rule: Know your audience and speak in terms they can understand.

Savvy public relations professionals know that CEOs readily relate to words like, sales, productivity and profit, and they seize every opportunity to explain how their efforts can increase all three.

The first step in this process is to remind CEOs that these numbers merely symbolize the behavior of people. Just as sales represent the behavior of consumers, productivity reflects the behavior of employees.

Numbers symbolize behavior

Even a novice executive can be persuaded to embrace the principle that ultimately, people affect a company's bottom line. They will also welcome with open arms the strategist who demonstrates an ability to affect the behavior of income-producing people like consumers, employees, investors, the media, government and the local, national and international community.

These constituencies are an organization's publics. Hence the term public relations. "Public relations is defined in terms of public opinion and behavior," said Harold Burson, chairman of Burson-Marsteller, in a speech delivered before the Institute for Public Relations Research and Education in October 1990. "Public opinion is a powerful lever that can motivate an audience to a desired behavior.

"Ultimately, there are only three possible approaches to any public relations exercise that intends to affect behavior. It can seek its leverage by creating an opinion where there is none, reinforcing an opinion that already exists, or by changing an existing opinion."

Symptoms of corporate sickness

Most public relations professionals are capable of communicating with a wide variety of publics, while others specialize in only one area, such as employee relations. A specialist of this nature can impact a company's bottom line by improving employee morale, thereby increasing productivity and decreasing absenteeism.

To these specialists, symptoms like high absenteeism and low productivity are telltale signs that a company's employees are not feeling very well. Like doctors, they can prescribe remedies designed to improve employee morale.

However, treatment cannot begin without the consent of the CEO, who is often shocked to learn that employees are unhappy. These executives are diagnosed with "CEO Disease," a disorder wherein a organization's top executive has a warped view of how employees are feeling because he or she only talks with middle management.

"Most middle managers really do not want to rock the boat," said consultant Robert Kriegel in an interview published in Fortune magazine. …

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