For today’s edition of this web log, we virtually go Down Under and check out a perspective on public relations entitled Assessing PR Models Within Organizations - Delivery, Positioning, Strategy, published December 2004 at PR Influences.
The main reference of the article is PR guru Harold Burson’s three-stage analysis of where PR might be in any organization:
First stage: “Here’s the message, go deliver it”
Second stage: “What should the message be?”
Third stage: “What should we do?”
What spurred the author/s to write about PR in Australia is a concern that “PR is used to the fullest,” noting the “exponential explosion in the use of PR by organizations” in the last 20 years and the fact that “(T)housands of graduates have emerged from our universities with degrees in PR or communications.”
The article describes what each stage looks like in practice.
o Largely “for the moment” and is all about outputs such as writing/distributing press releases, helping ‘launch’ new products, organizing functions and events, producing attractive giveaways.
o The success of PR is judged on activity and quantity - number of press releases distributed, number of clips obtained, number of brochures handed out, number of people who attended a function or event.
o Attributes of PR staff - bright personalities and good with people.
o Management largely views PR as a people resource - similar to the promotions department of yesteryears.
In this level, the biggest challenge for those involved, says the article, is “getting off the ‘activity = success’ treadmill that’s driven by the insatiable demand for more media coverage.” The desired action is to get management to think about prioritizing particular audiences, the article notes.
To do this, the article suggests “moving PR up the value chain” and begin asking: what is PR contributing to the business, what messages is it delivering, how is it supporting the marketing or corporate positioning? And what audiences should we be delivering to?
o This is where, according to the article, PR is taken seriously as a business tool - to support the brand or the corporate reputation.
o PR is likely aligned with a marketing/business plan.
o PR contributes to positioning, audience identification and messaging. Research of key audience attitudes and/or using research from the marketing department becomes an essential ingredient in the PR mix.
o Results or outcomes are more precise - and measureable. They are about achieving outcomes - lifting awareness, changing behaviors, managing issues, handling crises, achieving Government consents. Media remains important, but the measurement of success is more on quality (delivery of messages to the right audience) than quantity (sheer volume of coverage).
In this level, the biggest challenge for those involved is convincing management that, given the resources (human and/or financial), “PR can do even more than they think.”
To do this, PR must be made more accountable by being focused more on delivering measurable results to specified audiences and quantifying the value that PR brings to the organization.
This is also called the ‘what should we do’ scenario of Burson.
At this level, PR is part of the key decision-making process of the organization. It’s about issues that have the potential to severely affect the organization.
The article cites the case of two major Australian companies: mining firm BHP and asbestos manufacturer James Hardie.
In the case of one BHP mining project, the article says the question at an early stage would have been - “do we develop the OK Tedi mine knowing the potential environmental and people issues that could develop?” At a later stage, the issue would have related to whether BHP should cut its losses and decide to withdraw - and if so, on what basis?
For James Hardie, which confronted huge asbestos compensation claims, the article says that PR input would have been at the fundamental stage of deciding to make structural changes and establish the Trust; then throughout the subsequent issues and fall-out as they developed.
For a multi-national, the article adds, PR input could relate to whether to keep a manufacturing base in Australia and how to handle that issue - and the likely consequences of a withdrawal decision with the State or Federal Government.
At this level PR’s contribution largely speaks for itself. It becomes one of the key inputs - along with legal and accounting.
All three PR stages play an important role in each organization. But being able to quickly move beyond the first level is, I believe, the key to delivering lasting business value.