COMMENT: Editorial; A strategy for scoring goals

Public relations, as the Euro 96 pundits might say, is a game of two halves, Brian. One minute you’re over the moon, the next you’re sick as a parrot.

Public relations, as the Euro 96 pundits might say, is a game of two

halves, Brian. One minute you’re over the moon, the next you’re sick as

a parrot.



A new survey tells us that PR is rated as the most cost effective

discipline by business-to-business marketers. Those surveyed believe

that PR shows the greatest return on investment of all the disciplines

used, including advertising. Good news for those who claim that a good

public relations campaign can be as effective and persuasive as a full

blown ad campaign costing ten times as much.



But it is surely time to blow the final whistle on this grudge match

between disciplines. For all those who wish this debate was all over, it

is now. There are now reams of case studies proving how public relations

can significantly enhance the impact of advertising - and vice versa -

when the two work together to an overall communications strategy. True

integration, in other words, driven by the client.



The real challenge for PR people is to stake a claim to the formulation

of that strategy, rather than its implementation. And, sure enough, we

are currently seeing a number of companies ramping up their

communications capability at a senior level. But we’re not on our way to

Wembley yet.



The American Management Association recently quizzed 600 top corporate

executives -including over 150 CEOs, reports the US newsletter PR News

this week. Its survey revealed that business leaders are sceptical about

the effectiveness of their communications. Even more uncomfortably, they

perceive other company functions like marketing, sales, IT, and human

resources to be of more help in formulating strategy and achieving

communications goals than PR. They also cited PR’s lack of understanding

of the company’s ‘mission, vision’ and ‘financial and market

objectives’.



This tallies all too well with the anecdotal experience of consultants

and in-house PR practitioners in the UK. Communications is on the up but

‘public relations’ is consistently undervalued as a management asset,

and seen instead as a downstream ‘packaging’ function. Thus PR advisers

avoid talking to the top brass about ‘PR’, and talk in terms of problem

solving, and corporate strategy.



Some skirt around the problem of the perception of PR by giving it, and

themselves, another title. Should we worry? Perhaps not, if the end

result is the same. More pertinently, PR needs to find a way of proving

its worth - not just in terms of media coverage, which is a start - but

in terms of tangible business benefit. Otherwise, high hopes might end

up in an early bath.



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