Platform: Team success dictates the modern PR game - PR directors command higher salaries than ever before, but this must be reflected in the quality of the PR department, says Liam FitzPatrick

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.

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.

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