A colleague once defined public relations as making the CEO look good.
This seemed a little cynical at the time, but there’s more than a grain of truth at its core.
Because public relations is about giving the board or management team of an organization the freedom to be successful.
If the board defines strategy and policy, and holds the management team accountable to shareholders, public relations provides the context and setting for that to be done successfully.
We do this by engaging with the constituent audiences that influence and affect the organization, and its ability to do business*: employees, shareholders, customers, external opinion formers, the mainstream and on-line media, government, and so on.
Everything we do should create the context for the board to be successful: economic conditions, the culture of an organization and the willingness of the employees to operate and work within that culture, an understanding of what the organization stands for and manufactures, the understanding and support of government at all levels, a media preferably interested in the organization, and at worst not antagonistic towards it, customers who are prepared to be advocates.
The board should be able to rely on the public relations function to create, monitor, influence and manage this context, to define the public relations strategy and to create and execute on the tactics.
At one level we can think of this as creating ‘elbow room’ for the board, but it’s much, much more than simplistically making individuals look good. That’s a recipe for failure, not least because it’s transient.
Boards need the confidence that the public relations function can provide in the management of these audiences and the engagement with all of them.
That’s the role of public relations.
*I talk about businesses and boards in this post, but for non-profits and public sector organizations the principles still apply.