Public Relations

by Debbie Leven

The role of PR in the organisation

Ideally, any PR activity should be linked to PR objectives that have been defined and based on the organisation’s mission, vision and corporate level objectives. PR that does not contribute to the success of corporate or business objectives should be questioned.

Often, the PR department is in an ideal position to contribute to the corporate vision, mission and objectives. The work of the department will usually involve staff in speaking with journalists and key interest groups – opinion leaders, customers, pressure groups, suppliers and the like. Monitoring the press and media, and gauging opinion through primary and secondary research, ensures that the PR function has a good understanding of perceptions among key audiences.

PR and marketing

PR is part of marketing, though organisations will often have separate departments for these functions. Marketing is concerned with identifying and satisfying customers’ needs profitably. PR seeks to address the relationship an organisation has with the audiences that are important to it, and customers could be just one of a number of audiences considered by the PR department. Other audiences may include local community groups, pressure groups, staff, suppliers, local MPs, press and media (an audience in its own right as well as a conduit to others), and other organisations in the same sector. PR focuses on understanding those key audiences and communicating with them appropriately.

Is PR a management function?

Given the importance of reputation to an organisation, PR should certainly be considered as a management function. As the ‘ears’ and ‘eyes’ of the organisation, the PR department is in touch with what is happening within the organisation as well as having an understanding of how the various key audiences perceive the organisation.

Developing the organisation’s identity

The question of where responsibility for developing the organisation’s identity should lie very much depends on the extent to which senior management understand the importance of the role of identity. Ideally, the PR function should be involved, since the PR department is uniquely placed – understanding the environment in which the organisation operates, the pressures and sensitivities of the particular sector, the organisational culture, how the organisation is currently perceived and the nature of the desired perception. Staff in the PR department have an eye on the big picture while paying attention to detail. In some organisations, responsibility for developing an identity is passed across to a design, advertising, branding or marketing agency. In these instances, PR still has a valuable role to play.

The relationship between PR and HR

Both PR and human resources are concerned with communicating with employees. Responsibilities will vary from organisation to organisation. In some, the in-house newsletter, staff surveys and community relations are overseen by the PR department. In other organisations, either the HR department will take the lead or responsibility will be shared. Clearly, what is important is that the relative skills of each department are used as effectively as possible to support the organisation’s mission, vision and objectives. It’s not unusual for the roles and responsibilities of one department to impact on the other:

  • The PR department may become aware of staff discontent about a particular issue
  • Where it is likely that HR issues may have a wider impact, or become public, then it is likely that the PR department will become involved
  • When redundancies are planned, or offices to be closed, then PR would usually help support on the communications – internal as well as external.

Other departments

Aren’t other departments involved in communication too? Yes indeed – every department should be involved:

  • Keeping the PR department informed about any potential incidents or crises
  • Informing the department about any stories or events that could provide opportunity for positive PR
  • Regarding staff communications
  • In relation to their own function.