Beyond managing PR disasters, effective communications strategy ensures all stakeholders are united in achieving organisational goals

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A good communications professional should be able to act as an effective sounding board for a company’s business decisions


Many people who work in the public relations industry are used to hearing the question “Why would we need a communications or PR professional?”

In some ways, this is understandable. Compared to other functions, like sales, or distribution, or manufacturing, the return on investment in PR is not always immediately apparent.

But when things go sour for an organisation, the value of PR and sound communications practices can be very evident indeed. And we’ve seen several examples of this in just the last few days.

From the clumsy management by United Airlines of its reputation, following the circulation of video footage of a passenger being forcibly removed from his seat on a UA flight, to the ham-fisted retraction by the White House Press Secretary of comments comparing Syria’s Bashar al-Assad to Hitler, there’s been no shortage of examples of prominent people failing to heed the most basic principles of sensible communications.

Closer to home, there’s the HaloGas (previously GrabGas) controversy, wherein a disgruntled founder went public with accusations against the company. There’s also the Go-Jek PR fiasco, after an executive leaked the company was spending too much cash.

Also read: GrabGas rebrands as HaloGas, details life after controversy

And it’s at these times, when crisis mode is in full swing, that PR comes to the fore, working in tandem with CEOs and legal advisors and other departments to mitigate the impact of a negative situation. Sometimes it seems like it takes a natural or manmade disaster to hit an organisation for its leaders to fully appreciate its communications professionals.

The role of a communications professional

If anything, this shows how little people understand the role of a communications professional. Now part of this undoubtedly relates to the fact that the public relations sector needs to do a better job of explaining how it provides value.

But another part lies in the fact that many organisations aren’t clear on how to get the most from their communications resources. Your communications executive is not just the person who drafts speeches. She’s not just the person who drafts press releases. He’s not just the person who fights the fires when crisis hits.

In fact, a good communications professional — who can and will do all these things and more — should be able to act as an effective sounding board for a company’s business decisions.

Listening to everyone involved

Why? And how? Simple. A good communications professional understands the importance of listening. Not just to top management, but also to customers, partners and other audiences. Having a communications professional mean that a company has ears on the ground to understand what matters to different groups of stakeholders.

This also applies to innovation. Organisations across all industries understand the need to keep innovating to meet customers’ demands. But a good communications advisor will be able to provide insights on customers’ concerns or feedback, which may impact for the better on the direction of any proposed innovation.

And it also applies to employee engagement. Again, a competent communications advisor can work in tandem with Human Resources colleagues to better understand employee sentiment, and to devise the right messaging to engage a workforce.

Better communication means better engagement

Unfortunately, many companies still feel that employees are an easily obtained commodity. This shouldn’t be the case. After all, when a talented person leaves an organisation, he or she will bring the knowledge they have gathered with them, possibly to a competitor.

The organisation has to spend time and money recruiting a replacement and bringing them up to speed. Time and money that might have been better spent on the right employee engagement and communications resources to retain the talent in the first place.

Also read: 3 marketing and communications strategies to master in 2017

So, your organisation’s communications advisor has a lot more to offer than well-written press releases. He or she can offer sensible counsel on a how particular business decision might play out with consumers or a particular set of stakeholders.

This is the kind of counsel that seems to have been glaringly absent in Pepsi’s boardrooms in the weeks and months during which the recent Kendall Jenner ad was being developed. Most of the world is probably aware by now of the horribly cringeworthy — and now pulled — advert based on the apparent message that social unity can be achieved by … drinking soda?

For what it’s worth, a good communications advisor should have been asking some very pointed questions during this time.

What are our values? How will it look if we seek to align our values with this particular social movement? How will consumers and netizens react if we try to do so?

This is just one of the ways in which an effective communications counsel can add value, by being a sounding board for your company.

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