The role of PR is often misunderstood by clients
PR itself should be subsumed into a larger ‘communications’ role
DIGITAL News Asia executive editor A. Asohan’s commentary on the relationship, and tensions, between the media and public relations practitioners, PR folk are from Venus, the media is from Mars, brought up some interesting points but does not represent the whole picture.
I think what most media people rarely see are the brain-storming sessions and internal dialog that take place between the client and PR consultants.
From my humble experience, there are several points from an insider's perspective to consider.
Firstly, PR’s role is interpreted very differently by the various internal departments within an IT organization.
In a multinational IT organization, for example, the department that sells to retail markets and have quarterly product releases would view PR as a marketing tool and as such, is to be used to hype up sales activities and product launches.
However, for more enterprise and government-related business or B2B (business-to-business) product segments, PR is deemed as a waste of money as the direct ROI (return on investment) cannot be reaped immediately.
Most businesses fail to see the extensive value of PR not just in media relations and product releases or as a marketing tool, but for brand-building -- to be seen as market leaders and pioneers in tech development.
Most often business managers from such departments argue that the use of their marketing funds for PR initiatives in these segments are an utter waste of resources. The myopic view also stems from the fact that it’s only personal relationships, pricing and technical support that help in winning the million-ringgit projects.
The other point that most “outsiders” fail to realize is how some IT organizations have really no news or newsworthy stories to tell. These clients also have a myopic view that the success of PR is calculated on how large an article appears in a particular publication and how many articles appear per month.
Again, it’s comparing the coverage a large multinational organization gets against a local developer, for example.
Local IT organizations to some extent drop the problem on the PR practitioner’s lap, expecting these consultants to spin and re-spin stories that have no new angles. At the end of the day, they blame the consultancy for lack of creative ideas.
It’s is also worthy to note that every organization wants to jump into the social media foray without realizing the depth and width in terms of coverage, responsibility and time-sensitive scope of focus that is required.
Social media is no walk in the park and most organizations fail to realize that it is a dedicated task or responsibility that cannot be handled by an in-house one-person team, the PR manager or executive.
Funnily enough, it’s the PR department that gets called in to help when a crisis develops. When CEOs are caught out with dubious degrees or even false hardware claims, it is PR’s job to become gate-keepers and screen “pushy” media from delving into the juicy story.
Perhaps it’s about time organizations realize that PR is so 1990s and that it is now a deemed a “communications” function that is multifaceted, has a wider scope and depth, and is a more critical and valuable component in an organization.
What's missing in Malaysia is role-swapping, where CEOs and various divisional managers become communications managers for a month to understand the value of the task at hand; and vice-versa for communications managers to understand the challenges that each department faces.
I personally believe this is a beneficial program as it allows for mutual respect across the various departmental teams, especially within a large cross-cultural organization where the “me-myself” attitude or “don’t-put-sand-into-my-rice-bowl” stigma and fear are still prevalent.
With over 15 years of PR consultancy experience and a Masters in Communications Management, Adelina Hayden is now a WAHM (work-at-home-mum) who helps organizations get their communications in order. She has realized that life is too short to mollycoddle clients, that humans deserve to be treated with more dignity, and delights especially in bringing A. Asohan down a peg or two.