Public relations is highly misunderstood. It’s much more than media relations and crisis management and when employed strategically, helps an organisation to decide its what, why and how – its purpose for being. Here Sarah Hall, managing director of Sarah Hall Consulting, provides five points on what to expect from a good PR practitioner.
#1 Someone who treats PR as a strategic management function
There are few barriers to entry in public relations. Anyone can set themselves up as a practitioner with a lap top and phone but it doesn’t mean they are any good. All PR activity should align with your organisational objectives and result in clear business outcomes. Look for someone who is a member of a professional body like the CIPR (I’m its past president) or the PRCA, as it’s an indicator that they understand the strategic value of PR, adhere to a code of conduct and are committed to continuous professional development (CPD).
#2 Someone who continues their CPD
Time served is no measure of competence, particularly in an industry that evolves as quickly as public relations. You need someone who is aware of how the business of PR is changing, continually upskilling and encouraging those they work with to do the same. Check out the Global Alliance global capabilities framework to benchmark the skills your PR practitioner should display at different stages in their career. Invest time and effort in helping them achieve them. Business and management skills, as well as tactical competencies, are a must.
#3 Someone who operates ethically
People can get a bit sneery about PR’s ‘higher purpose’ but a public relations professional should act as an ethical safeguard – ie be the eyes, ears and conscience of your organisation. A key part of the role is horizon-scanning and benchmarking, also working with management and operations to plan for any crises. PR starts with listening to understand your market and stakeholders, which then informs how you best engage with them. I used the word engage deliberately – businesses need to move away from broadcast mode and genuinely invest in two-way comms, acting on the feedback given to improve internal performance, which will ultimately positively impact the bottom line.
#4 Someone who can speak truth to power
Which brings me on to needing someone who is able to speak truth to power. A confident and competent public relations professional should have the ear of the board and a full understanding of your business, including supply chains and areas of risk. If there is any question that the organisation is operating unethically, expect them to speak out and advise corrective action. In today’s day and age companies have to live their values. Any say-do gap will be called out by pressure groups, media or the public with the reputation damage and drop in profits that results.
#5 Someone who measures effectively
Finally, it’s pointless doing activity for the sake of it or jumping onto a new platform or app just because it’s shiny and new. A good PR practitioner will provide a business case for proposed tactical plans. They will adhere to the latest sector standards in measurement and evaluation and will want to be measured on business outcomes, not outputs. Industry best practice would dictate the use of the free AMEC integrated evaluation framework, based on the industry Paid Earned Shared Owned (PESO) model. If your PR practitioner doesn’t know what this or PESO is, you either need to help them develop their knowledge and skills fast, or you shouldn’t be working with them.