Strategic Public Relations Leadership

Strategic Public Relations LeadershipI learned this week about the Cockpit-in-Court, an early London theatre that stood where we find 70 Whitehall today. Apparently, it did as the name conveys host cockfights, although they stopped as long ago as the Jacobean times. The current building includes Kent‘s Treasury, built 1733-37.

I attended an event in Kent’s Treasury this week at the kind invitation of Professor Anne Gregory and Paul Willis of the Centre for Public Relations Studies at Leeds Business School, hosted by Alex Aitken, Executive Director of Government Communications, to celebrate the launch of Strategic Public Relations Leadership.

[Google books, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, Routledge, BookDepository, Waterstone’s, WHSmith, Blackwell]

The vision we have for social business at Euler Partners is built up and out from public relations in its “excellence theory” manifestation (rather than the various flavours of publicity and spin with which some readers may be more familiar). It is a fundamental, and one that has too rarely contributed all it has to give to organisational success, and Anne and Paul believe the time has come for public relations professionals to step up to the mark. They cite the increasing complexity of the modern organisation as reason enough:

This context requires public relations professionals to be able to clearly articulate and demonstrate their own contribution to organisational effectiveness. This textbook provides public relations leaders with a framework to do this, as well as a checklist of essential capabilities which they must acquire and exhibit if they are to operate at the highest levels of any organisation.

I’m delighted to have provided a “product description” in Amazon’s terminology or, in the jargon of the publishing industry, a “book blurb” for the back cover:

The authors write “an organisation’s reputation is determined not by expert publicity programs, but the alignment of declared and enacted values as judged by those with whom it has a relationship.” If you understand what this means, this book will help you make it happen. If you don’t understand what this means, you should read this book. Given the compelling association the authors identify between public relations excellence and organisational leadership, it can only benefit your career trajectory.

This heartfelt desire to encourage and equip public relations professionals with the necessary knowledge and skills to deliver greater tangible benefit to their respective organisations, and indeed to all those with a stake in the organisation’s success and areas of mutual concern, is a desire I explored in The Business of Influence (pp162-164):

It’s only the most proven and persistent Heads of Communications that get the C-title, and only then in organizations with boards that pay a little more attention to good governance and have a better understanding of the wider and deeper strategic role the CCO plays. Reassuming my mode of generalizing: all other organizations are populated by CxOs who consider the Head of Comms to be the ‘head of press releases, other media relations and urgent responses’, or perhaps actually have a comms head that pigeonholes himself and his team as such.

While definitions of public relations vary, as we took time to review towards the beginning of the book, too few practitioners get the opportunity to deliver the benefits of the full gamut of the public relations role definition in my experience, or are under-qualified to do so from a lack of continuous professional development. I’ve claimed that PR professionals today do not generally attain an appropriate balance of 1st and 3rd flows, with the organization’s influence over its stakeholders given considerably more time and effort than the reciprocal.

How might the role be evolving?

Jay O’Connor, CIPR President 2010, emphasizes the need for CCOs / Directors of Public Relations or Corporate Communications to acquit themselves in the wider context of organizational leadership. She is a Chartered PR Practitioner and a Chartered Director of the UK’s Institute of Directors – so she practises what she preaches. Jay believes that more senior PR professionals must prepare themselves “to talk the language of the board, with a particular emphasis on strategy formulation, organizational structure, planning, measurement and organizational learning – in short, to play a full rather than simply functional role in the boardroom.”

The 2007 report from the Arthur W. Page Society, The Authentic Enterprise, identifies four new leadership priorities and skills demanded of the Chief Communications Officer:

  • Leadership in defining and instilling company values
  • Leadership in building and managing multi-stakeholder relationships
  • Leadership in enabling the enterprise with ‘new media’ skills and tools and
  • Leadership in building and managing trust, in all its dimensions.

To repeat a previous conclusion: ‘our behaviours, manifest in influencing and being influenced through products and services and customer relations and communications and interactions of all kinds, accumulate to form a reputation and a degree of trustworthiness in people’s minds, and to establish a level of significance in people’s lives.’ So it seems that the 2nd and 4th new leadership priorities listed here play well into the Influence Scorecard, and it will be the uncommon influence strategy that doesn’t require emphasis on communicating values and employing new media.

 

 

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Managing Partner, Euler Partners. Author, "The Business of Influence", and "Attenzi - a social business story". Chartered Engineer and Management Consultant. Main Board Director of techUK.

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