The 21st-century public relations practice has been revolutionized by digital disruption, requiring extra efforts from the professionals to strategically project corporate organisations to their stakeholders. The time for corporate institutions to practice PR as a management function is now. The opportunities provided by the digital media have made it easy for the image of a company to be creamed and maligned in a jiffy. With online platforms, reputation can easily be tested every now and then.
American business magnate Bill Gates said, “If I was down to the last dollar of my marketing budget, I’d spend it on Public Relations!” This submission accentuates the import of PR in modern business and the need for it to be accorded its rightful place in organisational management.
The information overload and digital evolution have made it easy for employees of organisations to unofficially disseminate information to the public. This is regarded as ‘information leakage’. In the name of management function, several units work together to aid effective operation at their maximum capacity: human resources, marketing communication, research and development, operation, finance and legal. The contribution of these departments is geared toward organizational success. These functions are tied to an inclusive vision of the future and an underlying set of values. The synchronization of all these elements supported by effective communication will make a firm grow in a steady, profitable manner.
Public relations plays a vital and unique role in enabling organisations to establish and maintain cordial relationships with its publics and stakeholders through effective communication of its activities. Corporates who are interested in maintaining a satisfactory, long-term relationship with stakeholders should understand that ‘communication is key’.
PR has been described as a management function “predicting, analyzing and interpreting public views, attitudes and matters that might impact a business; while preserving corporate reputation- with or without a crisis- and managing content that forms an institution’s “face” to the public.
In the name of performing management functions, from the first contact to the people at the top echelon of organisations, friendly relationship, proactive approach to solving stakeholders’ problems and attending to a customer in the most acceptable manner are some of the ‘little’ things’ organisations downplay, focusing only on getting positive media coverage. However, the process of handling and relating with clients and customers alike makes more employees speak to stakeholders, giving information that they are not authorised to give. Social media networks have also compounded the issues, where uncontrolled information is shared in the public domain without proper gate-keeping.
The answer to effective management function in PR is to carry along all employees in the communication process, develop messaging according to the corporate vision, values and strategic direction of the company. PR experts have opined that several business failures are ultimately attributable to the confusion caused by poor communication. Therefore, hiring a public relations professional as a spokesperson is a crucial move to avoid embarrassing information leak, poor communication and corporate exposure to bad publicity. A professional spokesperson will understand how to stick to the corporate messaging during a crisis, identify key stakeholders and respond to their needs in such a way that will not be detrimental to corporate image.
For example, media generally trust public relations professionals who come across as open, transparent and forthright. Immediately the facts are succinctly communicated by the spokesperson, the likelihood of converting an otherwise belligerent reporter into a friend is high.
The digital technology is making people access information on-the-go. Alvin Adams described public relations as ‘a key component of any operation in this day of instant communication and rightly inquisitive citizens.” This then implies that PR is a profession that provides the greatest value to contemporary businesses when deployed effectively.
Lastly, speaking on behalf of organizations should not be haphazard but well planned and deliberate. Otherwise, information capable of exposing companies to disrepute may be disclosed by untrained speakers. The PR practice in the modern age subscribed to the accuracy of facts and figures when communicating with internal and external publics. To avoid ‘information leakage’ in this digital era, it is advisable to have a dedicated spokesperson to address the information needs of stakeholders, especially media. Efforts should also be made to beef up the spokesperson capacity of top executives in the organisation.
Mutiu Yekeen is a Senior Media and Communication Consultant at Caritas Communications Lagos. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org