COMMENT: PLATFORM; People relations can open a new market to PR

Human resources and PR could benefit from volunteering to join forces on stakeholder communications, says Kevin Thomson

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

Harley Davidson.

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

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