At its best, public relations is the outward facing part of your business, which means anybody who interacts outside of the company’s four walls is conducting PR. Whether employees are passing something on via word of mouth or posting it on a blog, they are engaging with the public, which is the broadest definition of public relations.
Every startup CEO or founder knows that everyone in the organization has to wear most of the hats most of the time. Some embrace that as a long-standing culture and encourage it through the growth of the company. In those cases, we see nearly everyone is an effective spokesperson for the product and the business. Those employees are great at community relations and awesome recruiters for the company.
It is only when companies get to a certain size that they feel like they need to hire somebody to communicate on their behalf. Often they choose to centralize communications into a PR department. This is a reasonable and often necessary result of scale.
But rather than asking the PR department to own the conversation, which may restrict which employees can say what to whom and when, it makes sense to ask those employees to manage, guide and encourage the conversation instead.
Communications professionals can make public conversations more interesting and can guide them where you want them to go, but everyone in the company is capable of having them.
For example, if employees like working at the company, they should like talking about where they work and people should enjoy talking with them about it. If you have people across your organization who understand what the company is trying to accomplish and how that ties into long-term goals, they feel both empowered to do their job and they want to help the company succeed. There should be no trepidation to essentially loosening these reins or opening these floodgates.
In other words, this is an opportunity.
It’s a simple math problem: Good Company + Happy Employees + The Authority to Communicate = Great PR.
The real opportunity isn’t having a dedicated PR force, it’s having employees out in the marketplace and interacting. It used to be you’d get a phone call coming into the organization and you’d route it. Sales leads and product support got sent to specific people. But today you don’t go to 1-800-help-me-fix-my-product. You go to Twitter, where everyone has a voice. Even the President of the United States is bypassing traditional media to spread his message.
PR professionals bring the depth of expertise and insight that direct the company’s message, but everyone can be empowered to be out in the marketplace talking to people.
Relinquishing Control of the Conversation
The question to ask yourself, then, is how integrated are your teams? To what degree are you on the same page?
When companies exert command and control, it’s sometimes an effort to make things coordinated and connected, but most often it’s a response to fragmentation. Centralizing communications efforts centralizes the authority around the keeper of the message, but it doesn’t necessarily get everyone on the same page.
History has shown that attempting to exert strict command and control in communications can be destructive. Plus, in a social and intra-connected network world, you’re able to communicate across countless platforms. Not only are you able to, you really don’t have a choice. A modern organization now has people with the tools but not necessarily the skills and the authority.
It doesn’t matter what line of business or which part of the business you’re in, you now have social and public ways to communicate with the public. So how are you going to take advantage of them?