Human resources and PR could benefit from volunteering to join forces on
stakeholder communications, says Kevin Thomson
What do you get when you align the strengths of PR and HR? A powerful
new discipline with a new brand all its own - people relations.
With their common ground, you’d think human resources and PR
professionals would have joined forces long ago. Both fight to
demonstrate their contributions to the bottom line - to be taken
seriously as a hard business discipline.
Just compare the hot topics from their professional journals. ‘People in
this business are careering away from the term public relations,’ says
PR Week (17 May 1996). ‘The chief executives we spoke to expect the
personnel function to perform a much more strategic role than today,’
reports People Management (8 August 1996).
Professional reputation isn’t the only interest that HR and PR share.
Corporate reputation is another. Certainly, PR people have seen the
connection, with the old adage that good PR starts from within. So
whether you call it reputation or culture, it boils down to the way an
organisation is perceived to operate by two types of stakeholders:
internal and external. Achieving an integrated approach to managing
stakeholder relationships is what I see as the greatest opportunity for
HR and PR, and the reason I’m suggesting the two form a strategic
Increasingly organisations are approaching their target markets and
interest groups as stakeholders. In essence, a stakeholder model is a
proactive approach to strategic decision-making and prioritising based
around balancing the interests of every group involved in an
organisation’s future success - employees, customers, pressure groups,
financial analysts, suppliers, even trade unions and regulatory bodies.
Research conducted earlier this year by MCA and the University of
Salford showed that many of the UK’s top business leaders see a real
need for integrated communication with these stakeholders, which I
believe requires a collaboration between PR and HR.
See the connection - people, relationships, communication? PR with a
focus on looking after relations with external stakeholders is good. PR
collaborating with HR to look after all people relationships is even
better. Managing people relations is a fundamental part of any
stakeholder model - a model which has demonstrated strong economic
benefits for the companies who have adopted it such as Levi Strauss and
So what’s in it for PR professionals? Aside from the altruistic benefits
of advancing a more effective business model, it also solves an image
problem for PR. If PR as public relations is seen as a has-been product,
get rid of it. The concept of people relations - a strategic alliance
between PR and HR - is a new product with a new brand name.
Another discipline is already looking at the stakeholder idea to solve
its image problems. The new Marketing Council and the Chartered
Institute of Marketing (CIM) are looking to re-invent marketing by
positioning it as the holder of those critical one-to-one customer
At this year’s CIM international conference, I offered this challenge to
marketers: Grab the high ground in communicating with customers and
stakeholders or be marginalised right out of the board room. It’s the
same challenge I’m offering to you. How to meet it? Align and conquer.
Kevin Thomson is chairman of The Marketing and Communication Agency