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Don't Blame Us…Some Areas Can't Be Controlled by PR Pros

By: Andy Marken

In his nearly 25 years in the advertising/public relations field, Andy has been involved with a broad range of corporate and marketing activities. Prior to forming Marken Communications in mid-1977, Andy was vice president of Bozell & Jacobs and its predecessor agencies. During his 12 years with these agencies, he developed and coordinated a wide variety of highly visible and successful promotional campaigns and activities for clients. A graduate of Iowa State University, Andy received his Bachelor's Degree with majors in Radio & Television and Journalism. Widely published in the industry and trade press, he is an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

On my office wall I have two framed images to constantly remind me of the limitations of public relations people no matter how good we are. The first is a print of Picasso's Don Quixote de la Mancha and the second is an unofficial crest many military public information offices had when I served, "Last to Know…First to Go."

It's tough getting the entire corporate team moving in the same direction, saying the same thing when you are:
" constantly tilting windmills to slay dragons
" not certain if the company is marching in the same direction as part of a parade of if they are running someone out of town

If you are going to be held responsible for projecting and protecting the company's image, it is helpful to know the areas that might sink your efforts. Forewarned is forearmed.

The Self Promoting Executive

The best CEOs and executive team members certainly rose to their present positions because they were competent and resourceful. Consciously or unconsciously they also achieved their present positions because they were able to promote and market themselves.

This has often been accomplished by becoming experts in a certain area and seeking out - and accepting - speaking opportunities at industry events, trade shows and conferences.

For the most part public relations people encourage and support this type of outward communications because it's good for the company. It helps demonstrate the firm's industry and technology leadership and expertise. It also puts a public face on a faceless corporation. It also helps attract qualified employees because everyone wants to work with and associate with the leaders in the industry.

But when your executives seek out and accept speaking opportunities outside of the company's general guidelines you will have problems. The overly aggressive self-promotion can lead the executive to get speaking engagements without your knowledge or support and possibly even in areas that are not aligned with the company's direction.

If the speaking engagement doesn't advance the company's message should the executive pursue the activity? If the presentation is prepared without the assistance of public relations how can you ensure the executive's message is consistent with the firm's message?

All you have in this instance is a renegade executive who is focused on building his/her image.

When this occurs the CEO and public relations has to address the situation with the executive to reconfirm the company spokesperson, speaker guidelines. At the same time every executive needs to be reminded of the company's policy of having all speaking opportunities coordinated through and by public relations. This helps control a balanced use of senior executives, helps ensure a consistent corporate message and enables the company to have a consistent look and feel for all corporate presentations to reinforce the company's message and image.

With the agreement of our CEO remind every senior member that there are no exceptions to the rule. It shouldn't be a matter of public relations ego and control but rather one of optimizing every opportunity for the company.

Community Relations Platforms

Whether it is a company-sponsored or personal favorite community activity there is always a danger when an employee speaks as a company spokesperson rather than simply an employee or individual with a personal opinion.

There are a number of "opportunities" the individual might represent the company but still speak with a personal perspective on a subject including:
  • Junior Achievement programs
  • Professionals speaking at schools and universities
  • Charity benefits and events
  • Community leadership positions-Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development Committee, Rotary Club
You can not control what an employee does on his or her own time or the projects/activities he or she wants to support. However, when they attend or participate in these events as a representative of the company they need assistance and guidance. Employees who volunteer to represent the company in any of the above or myriad of other local charities and opportunities need to receive spokesperson training and guidance. Insist that each company representative attend periodic communications training sessions where they also gain a sound understanding of the company's specific messages and positions.

So, rather than allowing scores of employees to run around town unchecked, you need to empower these folks as trained spokespeople delivering appropriate messages. The best way to curb this matter is to notify all employees that workers representing the company to the community (cite examples, such as the list above) are obliged to attend quarterly communications sessions.

Provide these company representatives with hard and soft copies of corporate messages and presentations. Include slides that give an overview of the company, corporate history and highlights, vision and mission and future direction. Include staff and revenue growth slides and materials they can use to tailor presentations for all foreseeable opportunities. Encourage them to contact public relations for special assistance for specific event presentations to ensure best results from their efforts.

Conduct periodic communications training and sensitivity training for these employees. Outline what they can and can't say, how they should refer certain questions to the appropriate company department rather than act on their own. Give special attention to the areas that are sensitive and should be avoided.

There is nothing senior management and you can do to control what employees will say outside of work about their company - good or bad. The best you can do is help them have the necessary information they need to the protect the company…and themselves.

Inside Out Activities

The greatest challenge for public relations is to support and facilitate the communications of internal groups that spend the majority of their time working with stakeholders outside the firm. Operations such as human resources, sales, marketing, R&D, customer relations management (CRM) and purchasing spend a considerable amount of time interfacing and working with prospective employees, customers, supplier partners and government agencies.

Their job is parallel to yours - communicating the company message. Make certain they have the most current promotional presentations and materials - releases, backgrounders, and position statements. Make certain they all have the standard corporate presentation format. Make certain they have fast and immediate access to the CEO's key corporate messages.

Public relations can't simply make it self available to these departments. These senior executives have departmental goals that are subsets of corporate goals and it is your task to directly support and enhance their activities for the total organization. That means winning the trust of the departmental heads so they seek public relations out to hone and promote their messages in conjunction with the corporate messages.

If you can't win their trust and show that your team is there to assist them you become nothing more than a cost center to them…and the total corporation.

© Copyright 2003, G.A.Marken, Marken Communications

Other Articles by Andy Marken

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. MarcommWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. MarcomWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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