If you want to make an impact in corporate PR, it’s essential to have the support and respect of your senior leadership team and, ideally, be consulted by them at an earlier stage in the business planning process. But while we often hear that PR has finally ‘earned its seat at the top table’ in business, it doesn’t always feel like that.
This is something we think about a lot at Tyto. By having strong relationships with our clients’ senior leaders, we’re able to deliver so much more impact and value, but we’re also aware of what a struggle it can be for many PR and comms people to make those vital connections. This is a critical matter that not only impacts our job performance but can also determine our ability to carry out our tasks entirely in certain cases.
So how can comms professionals get leadership’s attention and help them understand the true value of PR? Here are our recommendations:
- Don’t be afraid to push back
It can be uncomfortable for PR professionals to challenge senior leadership, and all too easy to nod along and tell execs what they want to hear, even if you disagree with their ideas or approaches. This is particularly common in an agency setting where the constant pressure to keep clients happy means PR professionals often go against their own recommendations. We’ve all done it, but the problem is, if you ignore your instincts and say ‘yes’ to everything, you’ll still have to justify to your client stakeholder why a project or campaign hasn’t delivered the desired results (which it won’t) when it comes to the crunch.
Remember that your expertise is the main reason you’ve been hired for the job! So be confident and when you push back, deliver your recommendations with supporting evidence, examples of past successes, and always try to highlight how various approaches could pan out. Whether that’s negative repercussions for a company’s reputation, or the credibility and awareness rewards if you do things the right way.
- Adopt a CEO mindset
While PR is our bread-and-butter, we need to remember that there’s a lot more on the minds of business leaders, so it’s vital to try and think more like a CEO. Make sure you understand the business strategy, objectives, and the unique risks and concerns of your senior team – what keeps them up at night? If you’re not being given this information, make it your mission to find out! It’s quite common to get caught up in your own individual responsibilities, but if you can’t show that you grasp the bigger picture of PR, senior execs might not take you seriously.
- Display the data and the bottom line impact
The reputation of a CEO directly impacts the reputation of their organisation, which in turn has a tangible impact on the bottom line. CEOs respect and listen to the right data, but comms people often struggle with finding and using meaningful data to back up the impact of their work. Reach and share of voice metrics are all very well but are not meaningful metrics when it comes to making top-down strategic decisions. By demonstrating the potential business value of your recommendations and the risk of ignoring your advice your senior team will sit up and take notice.
- Find the right advocates
While data holds significant value, relationships take precedence over it. As PR primarily focuses on winning hearts and minds, building human connections and demonstrating mutual understanding are crucial aspects that enable us to achieve our objectives.
Finding advocates in your senior team can be the key to unlocking their trust, so make it a priority to identify who in your senior team is most open to listening to what you have to say. Talk to them, ask their advice on the best way to highlight your expertise, and show them how supporting your objectives can benefit them as well. You may well find that having a champion at the top table will help you win over the whole senior team.
- Show them what goes on behind the scenes
PR might look easy from the outside, which is why often it’s taken for granted by those who don’t know much about it. But there are opportunities for us to demonstrate to leaders where we have the expertise that they don’t. One great way can be through media training, a tangible skill that can be packaged up into a neat session, giving a rare insight into the risks of doing bad PR, along with the benefits of doing it well. You can use it as an opportunity to highlight CEOs that have suffered disastrous interviews and media crises, and emphasise the invaluable perspective that a knowledgeable PR can bring to the table. It can be an opportunity to open their eyes, and sometimes shock them into listening more closely to your advice.
- Hope for the best, but plan for the worst
Speaking of crisis, business leaders have a contractual responsibility to protect the reputation of their organisation – and whether they know it or not, they need communications to help them do this. The fallout of a PR crisis can be devastating so make the case for carrying out crisis planning. Planning for the worst doesn’t just protect your organisation’s reputation when the worst actually happens, but it also helps build a stronger brand when things are going well.
PR and communications professionals play a vital role in connecting the vision and strategy of leaders with customers and investors. Being in lockstep with those leaders is integral to our success in telling these stories.
Featured photo by The Coach Space.