Thursday, January 14, 2010

Give Your PR Team a Seat at the Table

Most of us with any formal education at all in public relations are familiar with the excellence theory, perhaps most notably attributed to James and Larissa Grunig’s IABC study while at the University of Maryland. While two-way, symmetrical communication might be the part of that paradigm that has generated the most content (including plenty of debate), my focus for this post is on the idea of the PR practitioner being part of the dominant coalition and its importance.

All too often, internal or external publics seeking information are unable to retrieve the info they need about you in a timely and helpful manner. I’ve seen this first-hand, as I’m sure many of you other communicators have, and the fix is really quite simple — make your PR (relations, counsel, communication, whatever you call them) person(s) part of the dominant coalition.

For you nontheoreticals out there (as I often am myself until a situation occurs for which theory offers a solution), this isn’t highly complex stuff. Let me break it down into one sentence: Make your PR people 100-percent aware of everything that happens within their area of responsibility, and give them a seat at the table when discussing important projects and company decisions. There, easy as pie.

For many CEOs or program managers, this idea might seem a bit abstract, out-of-the-ordinary, ineffectual or even intimidating. Get over it. If Journalist X calls your communication specialist, he or she should be an expert in your subject area, knowledgeable about all company projects, programs and communicative efforts. Journalist X should not have to wait on Practitioner Y to run every little detail by Program Manager Z. Practitioner Y should’ve been in on the meeting where Project ABC was discussed and should’ve been briefed already by senior leadership as to what information can or cannot be shared and in what forms.

If your organization does not employ well-informed practitioners who can make certain on-spot decisions and actually be helpful, acting as a spokesperson for your organization, program, campaign, etc., then you are going about PR all wrong. Don’t expect external publics such as journalists or potential stakeholders (and in some cases other people who work for you who need information) to show you love after a couple of ill-fated attempts.

Now, realistically, there are some questions that are going to need to go through senior-level folks. But an expert practitioner will know the difference between those and general questions that can quickly and concisely be answered to supply internal and external publics with key information that can get you noticed and make you a recurring source. Dominant coalition isn’t some fancy terminology just for those professors sitting at the great communication research universities. Forming a dominant coalition that includes your communication team is just a best practice in business.

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