Salaries of pounds 150,000 for PR directors - or, in the case of
Camelot, considerably more - are evidence that we’re becoming serious
players in the boardroom.
Yet how many of us can point to sound management practice within our
departments to prove that we can justify that sort of investment? Sadly
most of us have not been very good at answering the question: ’how good
is my PR department?’
The problem is that the debate about quality in PR has taken the wrong
focus. In recent years effectiveness seems to be judged in terms of
media coverage or other outputs, when we should be looking at inputs as
well - such as quality of the people and teams.
And that’s not just my view - it’s supported by numerous writers on
quality and is the central point behind the European Quality
Foundation’s Business Excellence Model.
Thankfully, our ability to measure some outputs, like media relations,
is getting better. We are moving away from the crude measures of the
past - including the counting of column inches and, as some quite
sophisticated tools become available, there are fewer people around
trying to value press coverage against the advertising rate card.
But media coverage is only part of the story for good PR. For most top
managers, it is the quality of advice that matters. Whether your
communication counsel can keep you out of trouble is a real test, but
how do you prove a negative like that? In fact, the only thing you can
do is focus on having the right team doing the right jobs in the first
The best way to judge the quality of a PR department is to ask how good
are the people within it. Do they know their stuff? Have they the right
skills and characteristics? Do they work effectively as a team? Plainly,
if you get those elements right then you can be pretty sure that the
right results will follow.
Despite this, how many PR departments use the available management tools
to tackle these questions? From my experience, and from talking to
friends in the industry, luck appears to play a very large part in the
management and development of most communications functions.
How many departments regularly review the tasks and challenges facing
them and think about the mix of skills, experience and knowledge which
they need? How rigorous are they in this process?
Why do I say this? Look at the demand for training and development
within our industry. There seems to be plenty of demand for courses on
basic subjects like how to write press releases. But if people were
thinking about the full mix of skills needed in a good communications
department, there would surely be more interest in the development of
the more subtle skills of our craft such as persuasion, listening,
consulting or strategic problem solving.
And a straw poll taken of head hunters, suggests a very mixed practice
when it comes to recruiting PR people. Some firms use modern
psychometric tests but a significant proportion still rely solely on
that old unreliable - the interview.
Being able to present a bulging cuttings book never won us that much
respect as professional advisers. If we want to be taken seriously by
other professionals, we have to start taking ourselves seriously and
that means having a more modern approach to managing our recruitment,
development and teams. Applying current thinking about the quality of
our work will pay us greater dividends than just perfecting a
measurement tool for a small part of our responsibilities.