PR heads must 'reputate' themselves

Ray Jordan, corporate VP of public affairs and corporate communications at Johnson & Johnson, urged his audience last week to "go forth and reputate."

Ray Jordan, corporate VP of public affairs and corporate communications at Johnson & Johnson, urged his audience last week to “go forth and reputate.”

Jordan was addressing J&J's global communications conference in Orlando, FL. The theme of the event was “Connections,” a concept that obviously played into timely topics of digital media and social networking, but also resonated in the more traditional context of leadership development in PR.

Reputation, Jordan asserted, is not a noun, but a verb – something that is done, not something that has stuff done to it, for it, and around it. There are three steps to “reputating,” he said. One, be sure people understand who you are and what you stand for. Two, do the right things. Three, be “caught” doing the right things.

Throughout the J&J event, I was struck by how Jordan's notion of “reputate” applies to taking leadership in the communications department itself. Whenever I spend time with in-house teams, discussions frequently swirl around strategies for forging strategic partnerships with business leaders outside communications. PR pros need to “reputate” themselves in order to make the business connections, and there are steps that might help achieve that.
  • Find something to own. In every company there are tasks, platforms, or channels that are under-resourced or lacking in inspiration. My favorite example of this is from IBM, where the communications team, under Jon Iwata's leadership, assumed responsibility for the intranet and transformed it from an internal communications platform to an innovation tool for the entire company.

This was an opportunity that was spotted and seized, not handed to IBM's team in a mandate from above. The impetus for change should not have to come from outside the communications function. It should be driven from within.
  • Bring information in, don't just push it out. Jordan talked about the critical need for communicators to flag up issues and opportunities to business leaders as they emerge, not just respond to them.

This does not mean, as Don Spetner of Korn/Ferry once warned against in the pages of PRWeek, becoming the company “Chicken Little,” the one known for saying the sky is falling at every turn, and as a result may be shut out of the risky decisions necessary to drive innovation. Rather, it means grasping the business well enough to spot trends, as well as problems, and to be an insightful resource for what is going on inside and outside the corporate walls.
  • Internal communications is a full-time responsibility for the entire PR team, not just the one dedicated to the task. Successful PR leaders influence staff in every division, at every level. Seek out unsung corporate heroes and learn what they do. Become an expert in every job function of your company and translate these communities for each other.
“Reputate” yourself, PR leaders. Too much complacency swirls around the affirmation that “now is the time for PR.” Now is not the time for quiet satisfaction, especially given an uncertain economy. It's time to step up, be accountable, and embrace the discomfort of taking risks. Be a verb, not a noun.
Julia Hood is publishing director of PRWeek.

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