Shel Holtz identifies how not all journalists equate PR with media relations. In this case, he is referring to Mark Phelan of the Detroit Free Press writing about “the value of communications.” Phelan rightly identifies:
Communications must have a seat at the grownups’ table
He is commenting on the decision by Chrysler in the US to have its communications department report to human resources. Grunig and his colleagues identified in their Excellence study the importance of the communications function having a direct report to the “dominant coalition”.
As a private company, Chrysler’s decision may signify a belief that strategic communications are only important when an organisation has external shareholders and is under the public spotlight. This has proven to be a mistake now being addressed by some private equity companies in the UK – such as with the appointment of PR expert, Edmund King as President of the AA.
Colleagues in HR may recognise the value of internal communications – with employees and the critical union stakeholder group. However, specialists in that field such as Liam Fitzpatrick argue for IC to be a distinct function. And HR certainly isn’t the best place to offer the holistic approach necessary to ensure an organisation communications successfully with all its publics.
In contrast, putting communications under the marketing function might provide an external and commercial focus – but this ignores the subtleties of communicating with those who do not have a direct customer relationship.
It is interesting to see a journalist challenging management on the use of public relations beyond meeting their own interests. But Detroit is the home of the Big 3 Car companies and over the years there have been many senior public relations executives who have shown the hometown media the true value of their activities.
This was a topic raised by a MIPAA member, now retired but formerly employed by General Motors in the US and Europe. He was emailing me in response an article in the MIPAA Revolve members publication about Motorshows. Our discussion centred around the importance of developing relationships, especially in the context of increasing pressures on the media and PR practitioners.
I believe this is evidenced in the fact that a journalist of the Detroit Free Press – which is respected and read at the top table in the US car companies – stands up for PR as a strategic function.
When you have an effective relationship, based on long-term respect and benefits for both parties, then there is much greater recognition of the pressures you both face and how together you can overcome these.
All too often, particularly in automotive PR, the focus is on the tactical tools of the job, but the real value in communications comes from the depth of understanding that is provided to senior management by those who have the respect of those with whom they communicate.
[Thanks to Judy Gombita for reminding me of the topics I should be blogging about]