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Business Knowledge Key to Enhancing PR Professionals’ Value

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Editor’s note: PRSay today begins a series of guest posts from PRSA 2011 Leadership Assembly Delegates focusing on five key strategic areas within the public relations profession. Today’s post focuses on the business value of public relations.

This year at the PRSA Leadership Assembly in Orlando, Fla., teams of professionals met to discuss a variety of topics, including the value of public relations. As leaders in our field, we often have to justify our roles to our bosses and clients. Given the recent advocacy by PRSA surrounding its “Business Case for Public Relations™” initiative, the conversation regarding the value of public relations was rich.

One of our key conversations centered on public relations’ value to corporate reputation, employee morale, customer loyalty — all of which benefit the bottom line. When part of top leadership, public relations professionals serve as a strong compass with respect to business ethics.

Here is a running list of the value of the public relations function:

  • Advocates on behalf of companies, products and services.
  • Helps to educate citizens about important social issues, including healthcare reform.
  • Supports efforts in raising money for worthy projects and societal needs.
  • Through effective communications during times of crisis, maintains relationships with stakeholders and, therefore, helps to preserve and enhance a company’s reputation.
  • Helps companies and organizations achieve a variety of business goals.

Opinions on the value of public relations widely vary, depending on who you ask. For example, because of publicity surrounding famous celebrities and our industry’s long-standing association with media relations, the general public’s perceptions of the industry can sometimes be skewed, and descriptive words such spin, flack, fluff and exaggeration come into play. Undoubtedly, cynicism toward the profession exists.

During the PRSA 2011 Leadership Assembly, we agree that one of the most important steps PR leaders can take to elevate the profession is to demonstrate to business leaders that public relations creates more than outputs such as news placements and Web hits. Through effective research and evaluation, we can also demonstrate the outcomes of our efforts — the bottom-line impacts. This requires us to have business literacy. It requires us to understand measurement tools and advocate for necessary resources — financial and otherwise — to effectively evaluate our work.

One such resource is the Barcelona Principles, or seven steps for effective measurement. Issued by the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC), the principles include such steps as setting clear goals before you measure and measuring media with quantity and quality metrics versus the antiquated and misleading practice of placing a value on PR as the cost of purchasing the same amount of advertising space.

We recognize getting resources for measurement is difficult in an economically restrained environment. But, not all measurement is expensive. And, it’s ultimately critical to demonstrating PR’s return on investment — and to justify our value.

Other ways public relations professionals can further demonstrate their value include:

  • Talking the language of business by connecting all PR efforts to business objectives;
  • Introducing business leaders to the value of PR through MBA and business curriculums;
  • Helping companies understand the APR designation;
  • Making the APR a requirement for hire; and
  • Standardizing public relations titles (much like engineering and architectural firms do).

Finally, aspiring public relations professionals should seek an education that includes business classes, numerous internships and mentors. Continuing PRSA’s MBA Initiative is vital to the advancement of the PR profession as well.

What has been your experience of the importance of public relations to your particular organization? How do you think PR professionals can further demonstrate their value? Please let us know in the comments if there is something we have missed.

Myra Cocca, APR, is founder of IronStrike, which helps executives, companies and organizations navigate change through effective employee and leadership communications. She is past president of PRSA’s Indiana (Hoosier) Chapter.

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