In a variety of high-level PR jobs over the course of my career I
have developed a simple formula for ensuring that public relations
remains alive and healthy in an organisation.
Tell everyone regularly that, whatever their various job descriptions,
they are all honorary public relations officers. It is essential that
staff at all levels know exactly what is going on in their company. If
you give them ownership of the business and all its disasters and
triumphs then you will reap the dual dividends of a committed workhorse
and a positive public image.
Although I have met accountants whose knowledge of board agendas have
been gratifyingly accurate and board members who are well aware of the
daily life of the lower ranks, there is always at least one crucial
group of employees somewhere who slip through the net.
Recite in your mind a definition of public relations. It will most
probably be something about sustaining effective relationships between
an organisation and its publics.
Now think of all those colleagues whose job it is to man the front line
of defence in your struggle to ensure that those relationships are
effectively sustained. Your list should automatically include the
managing director, board members, department heads and your shop floor
executives - especially those who edit the in-house magazine, speak to
the press and write the annual report.
But there are others who may not seem so obvious - for instance, the
receptionist talks to people and the switchboard operator deals with
We must not make the mistake of assuming that each one of our own people
knows who we are, that they read the house newsletter and that they
recognise our faces. Most of the people who contact your organisation
will do so via a telephone in the first instance. The attitude, the
response, even the accent of the person who answers the phone will
affect their view of the company forever. Even more influential will be
the knowledge that the person who answers displays - or fails to
I recently telephoned nearly 100 organisations to check their addresses
and the names and job titles of their PR heads. In more than two-thirds
of cases, the person who answered the telephone needed a substantial
conversation to understand precisely what I wanted. Local authorities
were the worst: ’Communications department? Have you tried BT?’.
The general attitude was very helpful, several were apologetic that they
could not help more. But most did not know that they had a PR office, or
who was in charge of it.
The best were charities, arts organisations and publishers - possibly
because they had smaller officers and there was more chance of everyone
knowing everyone else.
Staff should also be taught to recognise the difference between an
internal and an external ringing tone. Nothing is more unwelcoming than
a voice, muffled by a half-eaten biscuit, proclaiming in a surly manner
that ’this is an external call, so I can’t think how on earth you got
through to me’, as your first introduction to a company.
Your staff - from the carpark attendant and the switchboard operator
through to the chairman - are your front line. And it is probable that,
on a day-to-day basis, the carpark attendant and the switchboard
operator will talk to more potential customers, competitors, job
applicants and press than the chairman. For that reason alone it is
worth keeping them in touch with what’s happening in your organisation
and updated regularly.
Roger Witts runs Derwent Communications.