Platform: Is your open door policy open wide enough? - Companies need to take steps to ensure that their front line of defence isn’t unwittingly causing offence, says Roger Witts

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.

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

general enquiries.

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.

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