Sacha Deshmukh, Mandate Communications: The business of PR is business

Today's public relations professional has a role that demands far more than communications.

If the PR industry has gone through seminal movements in its lifespan, one of the most notable came at the end of the 1980s.

'Black book' PR and its leading practitioners had to step aside for a new breed of PR adviser: the strategist.

These strategists eschewed the random sell-in of stories to contacts. Instead, they took pride in planning and executing comprehensive programmes of activity based on a strategic vision and with a clear commitment to desired outputs and outcomes. That sounds pretty unremarkable today, but it was revolutionary at the time and completely changed working practices.

We now stand on the cusp of another revolution that will separate adaptable practitioners from traditionalists. It will see new reputations forged and industry leaders established. And once again, the industry will be changed completely.

Today's PRO has to think flexibly across multiple channels. Indeed, the importance of understanding these channels has become ingrained in the industry's psyche. But, just a few short years ago, channels were limited, print newspapers were king, and the internet was just for techies.

However, while channel growth is important, it is not the biggest shift happening in our industry. That is occuring in the space PR occupies in business.

We are moving away from a time when PR was often limited to the packaging and presentation of business decisions that were already made. The time of reactive activity, based on decisions made in a boardroom far removed from comms experts, is coming to an end.

Today, we are seeing a seismic change.

The most successful businesses place comms issues at the heart of their planning, with communications goals that coalesce with their strategy.

They know stakeholder support and reaction can make a win or destroy shareholder value in seconds. These firms need a new breed of PR professional: the true business partner.

They want these advisers to understand how to communicate a compelling message but also to know their business sector and be trained in other key disciplines such as the law, business administration or accountancy.

The new breed is equally at home working with clients to drive brand strategy or direct major investment choices as it is developing storylines and selling in news angles.

The broad expertise of these advisers means they are moving beyond the realms of traditional comms. They now help clients assess market opportunities, articulate discussions with banks and financial institutions, design people-management strategies and fundamentally drive innovation.

We firmly believe this is what clients now want: a real partnership that drives the business forward, regardless of the channel. It is the whole philosophy behind Mandate and Engine Business.

So what does this mean for today's PR adviser and the future for young talent entering the industry? What does it mean to PR firms looking at the skills sets of their staff? It means the truly ambitious need to put an emphasis on understanding clients' businesses as much as they understand the communications world. It means good PR businesses will invest time and money in training and development to establish and maintain real business savvy, knowledge of business processes, trends and thinking.

Does it sound like management consultancy? Possibly. But the convergence of comms issues as core to business success means a convergence of approaches is both desirable and inevitable.

Not only is it what clients want; it is also a very good thing for the PR industry. The quality of people we attract and the value of service we deliver will rise.

Bring on the future. It is business.

Views in brief

Which three words describe the perfect account manager of the future?

Savvy, forward-looking and passionate.

How comfortable do you feel pitching against agencies from different disciplines?

As part of Engine, we love pitching against any agencies, drawn from any discipline, because we have the flexibility to put together whichever mix of disciplines that we believe is correct.

What essential elements are in your most productive client relationships?

Trust, knowledge-sharing, hard work - but above all, everyone having fun.

Sacha Deshmukh is chief executive of Mandate Communications and Engine Business

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