#FuturePRoof: Leaders speak out on value of public relations
Sarah Hall is back at the PR Festival in Edinburgh for a second year with an update of her #FuturePRoof project.
#FuturePRoof is a project that Sarah started two years ago in a bid to assert the value of public relations as a management discipline.
Along the way she's developed a worldwide community of several thousand people and published two books.
#FuturePRoof has become part of the lexicon of modern public relations.
The latest phase of the project seeks out insight on the value of public relations from the highest levels of organisations.
It's a practical expression of Professor Anne Gregory's work on the leadership role for public relations.
“Organisations have never been independent of society and the implicit management orthodoxy that assumes that in some way they can impose their will or their strategy on others seems rather quaint these days.”
It also reconnects with Tim Travers-Healy’s public relations Credo.
“In the overall scheme of things the objective of our contribution to society at large is the achievement of a balance between the intentions of the institutions we represent and the legitimate concerns of their community and constituency,” said Travers-Healy.
Travers-Healy was one of the founders of the CIPR.
Sarah has approached the leaders at the top of organisations that have been in the public sphere and faced significant stakeholder management issues in the past 12 to 24 months.
In each case public relations is represented at the highest level within the organisation.
International Paralympic Committee (IPC): enhancing and protecting reputation
The IPC is the governing body for the international paralympics. In the run up to Rio 2016 it faced challenges with funding for the Games, the expulsion of the Russian team, and the death of an Iranian cyclist.
“The strategic public relations function is fundamental to enhancing and protecting the corporate reputation of the IPC and the Paralympic Movement as a whole.
“They ensure everything we do is transparent, honest and accurate; they build confidence amongst our stakeholders and engage billions globally through proactive and innovative communications.
“Central to the overall management and direction of the IPC, they are masters of storytelling and, at a time of crisis, are trusted with navigating us through choppy waters to calmer seas.”
Sir Philip Craven, IPC President.
Metropolitan Police: communication saves lives
The police operates in the difficult communication space between information, education and fear.
Public relations is critical to maintain public confidence and safety.
Professional communicators are involved at the heart of decision making, rather than messengers for the organisation.
The Metropolitan Police demonstrated excellence in public engagement following a terrorist attack in Westminster.
It coordinated a response with stakeholders including other blue light services and the London Mayor’s Office.
“The relationship the police has with the public is vital – we can only be truly effective with their consent. An important part of this is making sure our communication is professional and embedded in our operational policing.
“During major incidents communication from the police can save life and help us bring the situation under control. This needs to be considered strategically, tested and then deployed. It can’t be left to chance or added on as an afterthought and is one of many reasons why a professional approach to communications in the Met is so important.”
Craig Mackey – Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police since 2011 and Acting Commissioner during the Westminster terrorism attack.
Merlin Entertainments Plc: responsiveness, relevancy and transparency
A serious accident on a ride at Merlin-owned Alton Towers put CEO Nick Varney in the spotlight.
A fault on Smiler rollercoaster led to serious injuries of passengers. Sixteen people were injured in the June 2015 crash, including two teenage girls who needed leg amputations.
Varney led from the front accepting responsibility for the situation and engaging with the public. The response contrasted markedly with other organisations that have adopted a legal response when facing similar unfortunate events.
“Effective public relations is more a management discipline than it is a corporate function. Responsiveness, relevancy and transparency are all increasingly important factors in communicating in today’s media world and is made even more authentic if owned by leaders of the business.”
James Crampton, Corporate Affairs Director, Merlin Entertainments Plc.
Telefonica UK (O2): role evolved from cheerleader to strategic advisor
International mobile communications giant Telefonica recognises that public relations is critical to managing the role of the brand in society.
Its public relations team is represented on the board by Nicola Green, Director of Corporate Affairs. Public relations isn't a means of pushing messages to audiences but enables the organisation to listen and position itself within the market at the highest levels.
"The most influential leaders in the world today are extraordinary communicators - you only have to look at the current political landscape to realise that.
"Concurrently, there is an uprising in the appreciation for communications functions within the business community, and rightly so. The role of the communications team has evolved from corporate cheerleader to strategic advisor, which senior leaders have come to rely on.
“I work with my Corporate Affairs Director on a daily basis to seek input, insight and critical evaluation in order to make key business decisions.
"It is now hard to put a price on the reputation of your business. As the corporate shop window becomes increasingly translucent, a blot on your copybook can have devastating consequences. Our communications colleagues have a big role to play in holding the business to account and supporting the organisation in times of difficulty."
Mark Evans, CEO, Telefonica UK (O2).
Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust: communications leaders should take control
In the NHS every single employee works in public relations, engaging with the public at its most vulnerable.
Public relations underpins every interaction between the organisation, its staff and patients.
“The professional definition of public relations needs to evolve and move on from just the discipline that looks after reputation for the purpose of influencing opinion and behaviour - to the discipline that facilitates the conversations that need to be had to drive and improve an organisation’s strategy and success.
"Communications leaders should take control, not of the message but of the leadership role that they have in organisations, not just the tactical delivery of the public relations outputs, but the role that they have in building relationships and facilitating powerful conversations – this is the true value of public relations."
Matthew Hopkins, Chief Executive of Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust
Public relations for public relations
Sarah has made the link between public relations and organisational purpose. She's proven that the leaders of progressive organisations recognise its value.
The challenge for public relations practitioners is setting up and aligning their skills with a schema recognised by other managers.
Sarah points to the work of the Global Alliance in defining a competency framework and organisations such as the CIPR in asserting the need for a community of practice bringing together academics and practitioners; foundation knowledge; qualifications; and training.
The opportunity is ours if we want to take it, says Sarah.
#FuturePRoof has become a labour of love. Sarah and I have worked with each other on various industry initiatives since 2010. She asked me to lend a hand with the #FuturePRoof community and each of the two books.
12 months ago we crossed the line from professional to personal and started dating. Neither of us has ever made any attempt to hide our relationship. In fact we've frequently been accused of oversharing.
I've added this disclosure after receiving an odd anonymous comment. I continue to support and write about #FuturePRoof irrespective of our personal relationship. I'll add this disclosure whenever I do.