Every company or other organization needs public relations – a way of connecting with ‘the public’ as represented by their customers and users. This function can be carried out by one person on a part time basis or by a large group of people working full time on this single set of functions but it must be carried out.
Public relations can be as simple as an independent butcher selling his or her wares to customers in a local meat market. The butcher’s public relations program consists of a smile, a few words of advice on cooking lamb or freezing chicken, and a final friendly wave. It can be as complex as someone writing a speech, another a news release, another planning a major event that invites thousands to a major hotel in an exotic location and yet another coaching the CEO before her appearance before a government committee or at the AGM.
Unfortunately, at both ends of this scale, public relations or PR or even “Public Affairs”, is often neglected by organizations of all sizes. In mid-sized firms or other organizations, PR is often assigned to a junior or a former receptionist. Sometimes, a local newspaper reporter is hired as the PR person because the roles seem somewhat similar; after all both talk with ‘the public.’ As well, many the executives of many operations think PR can handle everything from the Annual General Meeting or the staff Christmas party to a crisis that threatens to clean out the coffers while muddying the reputation of the outfit.
No matter how large or how motivated a PR unit is, it can never be prepared to handle everything that comes along. A good PR plan, just like a business plan for the whole company, needs to be done, updated regularly and on demand and followed throughout the whole organization. The PR people in the organization have to have trained, reliable spokespeople on whom they can count when required. They must have either the skills and resources to handle any crisis that might strike the place or, preferably, a constantly updated list of resources on which to call when things go awry. And crisis-oriented resources have to be qualified, tested and trustworthy. Most crisis resources will be required only in the short term – a few days, weeks or, at most, months. It’s much more practical and economical to bring in such help when needed.
Regardless of whether PR needs are short or long term, they must be provided by trained, aware and motivated professionals; it is not a task to be left to jumped-up marketing juniors or former journalists without specific PR experience. PR can’t be ignored; it is vital to the essential health of your organization.