Thursday, April 05, 2012

Getting above it: why a non-PR perspective makes for better PR

Last Friday I caught up with a very clever colleague (Paul) who also runs his own successful professional services business.

Let me be very clear. He's not a PR person. But he and his team do advise many leader in financial services on communication. And as he and I agree, there's a lot to be desired about the standard of public relations - whether in Australia or the world, and both inside and beyond financial services

How does a non-PR person end up giving advice to financial services leaders on communication? Pretty simple - they "get" strategy. And PR folk often don't. Sure they (or should I say "we"?) think they do. But fundamentally, and if you ask a CEO, they don't.

The non-PR perspective in PR seems to be the x factor that elevates communication people beyond being PR people to being a valued part of the management team. 

It's the ability to see beyond the communication that makes communication advice truly useful to leaders in business, in government and the not-for-profit sector. That's simply the ability to "get above" the PR and communication agenda to see the broader business context...and thus offer more meaningful input to content.

I have a personal experience around this that illustrates the point. Years ago, as a fearless sub-30 year old, I thought I was pretty good at "getting" strategy in financial services (thanks to the management degree I had rather than the communication honours degree I couldn't be bothered finishing).

Now, as a business owner, and with experience at creating and executing on strategy to create a culture, deliver services and achieve targets, I'm a much better communicator. Because I "get" strategy in a much deeper way. I've created a business in financial services communication from scratch, set it's strategy, then trialled and refined approaches until we got it right.

I, like Paul, advise finance clients on things way beyond the "communication" or "PR" brief. And our communication and PR advice and execution is much the better for it.

So what can PR people do to "get above it" and improve their ability to advise on  the problems and how do we fix them?

Education: Ideally something other than pure communication...commerce, business, management, philosophy, law, economics, marketing and journalism are some of the qualification in our team. I'm not a massive fan of arts degrees as an employer, for similar reasons to my somewhat anti-PR views....narrowness of perspective being my chief concern. A post-graduate or masters degree is a pretty attractive addition - especially in finance, business or management. The smart move is often simply a post graduate diploma in applied finance. And that's not as hard as it sounds. Yes, you'll need a calculator and some maths ability, but a lot of it is conceptual rather than applied maths per se.

Experience: Ok so what if you have an arts, communication or PR degree? A bit of commercial experience in a line management role might be a good idea. Any role that helps comms people get a more informed perspective on the commercial reality of business will give them a way better ability to advise on communication. That means backing yourself - having the confidence to work your way out of the communication box even if it's only a secondment.

Expectations: In some ways leaders, senior executives and PR firms get the PR capability they deserve. If their expectations of their PR and communication people is to receive only tactical communication advice then that's exactly what they'll get. On the other hand, if they make the effort to ask for more from their advisers, or to seek out those who can "get above it", then they'll lift the standard of PR across the board - and the business will benefit.

If we lift our gaze, our own careers and the organisations we work in, will be much the better for it.

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