PR has real value when journalists recognise its strategic importance

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 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]

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

3 thoughts on “PR has real value when journalists recognise its strategic importance”

  1. Thanks for posting this!
    As a former journalist who took thousands of phone calls from pr specialists and pr amateurs, I can tell you that I have the utmost respect for the media.
    After all, I’ve been one of them, so to speak, and I know the pressures they face and the integrity they bring to the work they do.
    So, for me, members of the media are my clients as much as my clients are. I look towards the best interests of both and keep my eye on the prize, which is a win-win situation where both parties (well, actually, all parties including mine) get what is needed from the opportunities that arise.
    All to often I have met pr specialists whose drive and push techniques revealed a lack of first hand experience in the news room. Needless to say, those were the dreaded calls (and still are the calls, according to my media colleagues). It’s ineffective and downright irritating.
    So, yes, keep the media relations in pr , please!

  2. I think all PR practitioners should be subjected to the “pitch” – it happens to me as a blogger and editor of the MIPAA members’ magazine. The most recent pitch I experienced was from someone who didn’t need to try the hard sell with me as they should have known that I would be willing to hear their message – but from the tone of the email (in this case), I just didn’t want to know.

    Once you’ve experienced it, you can see how it is exactly the same approach as that used by other sales people – and as you say, it is irritating and ineffective.

    In particular, the worse ones show zero understanding of the person they are contacting and in my view that makes it junk communications.

    I’m teaching a press release writing workshop in January and normally talk about contacting the media – but have now decided to add in a role play on how to do it since clearly many people do not.

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