The role of PR/communications and the polarisation of understanding of this role by many people is something that always puzzles me. Having been a communications professional for nearly 3 years and dabbling in marketing for nearly 5, the consistent opinion I hear from non-communications people is always that PR is expendable. Sadly, communications/PR is often mistaken to be the business function that can be removed during cost-cutting or operational re-structuring (“belt-tightening” they term it), and re-factored into plans when the stars are more aligned or feng shui says it can be added back into the cosmic plan.
“Yeah, it’s useful but not something that I cannot do without.” or “PR only costs money; it certainly does not deliver any business value…” are rather common generic statements coming from a range of business professionals.
For the record, I just want to state how strongly I feel about the importance of the role of a communications person/dept/agency is for the sustained and structured development of a company/organisation. No other function comes close to being the ‘glue’ that keeps the different functions and departments speaking to each other and in the same language and in the same time zone.
Sure, there are many factors involved in deciding whether a communications function is required. Valid factors including variables like size of the company, what type of services/products are being sold/market-ed and even whether the company has got anything of value to talk about. But short of a small company where the staff play interchangeable roles (i.e. bao ke liao), a working comms function enables the smoother flow and dissemination and retention of materials internally and a consistent and impactful packaging of information externally.
One important point to remember is that every company and its management has responsibilities and accountablities to different audiences like stakeholders, investors, media, analysts, etc. Having a working comms function enables proper communication to take place in a structured environment that can deliver value-add to all sides. It isn’t about controlling the messaging or ‘spinning’ the truth (two really old stereotypes that need to see the dust of ground sooner rather than later), but it is about making sure that all relevant parties get to put their thoughts on the table and walk away with a win-win scenario.
Sometimes audiences need to stop seeing themselves as being in polar opposition to the company (where the goal is to see where the business fu*ked-up) and realise that business exist to survive and once a negative feedback system (think homeostatic systems vs. figural) develops, there can only be one direction that the business will take. They start to communicate less since providing information seems to be feeding a negative backlash. This is typical of human behaviour – if a person gets a regular beating everytime he says something on a topic, he will adapt to not speak about the topic.
Transparency is encouraged but who does it really benefit? Sure, customers are all for wanting to know how a business works, etc but at the end of day, customers are fickle too. Transparency must be balanced wth responsibility to be effective.
Back to my point on win-win, an existing working comms function can be that intermediary between ensuring that the business’ best interests are kept in mind while seeking to increase positive impressions with key audiences via corporate reputation activities like being transparent and responsibile.
At the end of day, communications does what sales/marketing/operations cannot do. The function takes all the seperate parts of the business and merges them together via one big common understanding and then proceeds to communicates this understanding to all relevant audiences and those that will care to listen.
How cool is that?