CIPR president, Sarah Hall, has rightly emphasised the importance of maximising public relations’ standing as a strategic management function this year. But what exactly is a strategic management function?
The term ‘strategy’ is widely understood to be a process that is connected to an organisation’s survival and success. Public relations is, of course, intrinsically linked to this and one way to understand PR as a strategic management function is to connect it directly to corporate strategy.
This inevitably requires a strong element of planning which, for strategic public relations, incorporates the following:
- Formative research to understand an organisation’s current situation including assessments of existing stakeholder group perceptions and the quality of relationships
- Formulation of measurable communication and relationship objectives that support the corporate business vision, strategy and purpose
- Content creation, content curation, storytelling and organisational listening that contributes directly to communication and relationship objectives
- Regular measurement of outputs, out-takes and outcomes of communication and relationship building
- Evaluation of communication and relationship building, reflecting on what’s worked well and what could be done differently.
Processes underpinning strategic public relations can appear laborious but the rationale behind the approach is that PR resources are used appropriately and effectively. Without this an organisation could spend a lot of time, effort and money on PR that might be well executed but have no impact whatsoever on corporate strategy.
A strategic public relations team therefore requires capabilities that extend beyond content creation. Research and data analysis capabilities are critical at the formative stages of programmes and later on to monitor progress and impact.
Understanding how communication affects understanding, attitudes and behaviour is also crucial. A campaign that aims to change long held beliefs that is based purely on content grounded in rational facts and figures is unlikely to be effective.
And finally, the ability to stand back and review what has worked well and what can be done differently requires a high degree of self-reflexivity.
Essentially, being strategic entails taking an evidence based approach to ensure that creativity in content creation is relevant and meaningful. The recently updated CIPR Professional PR Diploma qualification focuses squarely on enhancing these capabilities resulting in more strategic practice. Imran Javaid studied the qualification in 2017 with PR Academy and said:
“The course has really helped to shape my thinking in a much more strategic way looking at the overall picture and understanding why we undertake particular PR campaigns and activities and be able to challenge the business about its communication goals, as well as providing recommendations. With the increased knowledge and confidence gained from the course I have also been able to secure a new job recently too.”
The Professional PR Diploma incorporates academic rigour through the relevant discussion of theories, concepts and models but they are now more applied to practice. The teaching at PR Academy also focuses heavily on reflection as we think that reflecting on practice is fundamentally what makes us better practitioners.