What is the Currency of a Public Relations Practitioner? – Godfrey Adejumoh
Public Relations is in a dilemma. While it appears to be making success in its quest to boost the reputation of organisations across sectors, the understanding of what it stands for is still hazy even among PR practitioners. It is precisely this lack of understanding of what it is or what it is not that has further weakened the value of the practice and the industry’s ability to properly harness its potential to sharpen discourse at the highest level in the private and public sectors.
The lack of its understanding has made some practitioners see themselves as marketing practitioners. It is not surprising therefore when Public Relations practitioners rate themselves by the outcome of promotional and sales activities they are able to support year on year. Perhaps, some even want to be rated by their contributions in the physical sense of it to the figures in underlining sales and volume growth.
Despite this trend, one should not be in a haste to caste aspersion on the Public Relations practitioner that is leaning in the direction of marketing and sales. Believe it or not, the results of the marketing and sales people, on the surface, appear more empirical than that of Public Relations practitioners’. They impact directly on profit and loss of organisations. They are thus accorded more accolades and relevance by every stakeholder within the organisation. This may be why Public Relations practitioners are now gravitating toward marketing and sales in their quest for relevance in the scheme of things.
But we miss the point. What we need to do instead, is to ask; “what is the currency of a Public Relations practitioner?” “What does he/she have to deploy and expend to increase his/her relevance?”
First, we need to understand that currency is representative. It represents wealth. It is however only a means to an end.
Understanding the currency of a Public Relations practitioner will go a long way to shape perception on the value that the practitioner brings to the entire organisation. Importantly, it will help to put in perspective how PR contributes to the bottom line of the organisation.
A disclaimer is appropriate at this time – you will not find the term “the currency of a PR practitioner” in any universal or even local theory or practice handbook. It is a term I made up. But it concretises my little experience in and understanding of the PR industry and its function.
In my understanding, the currency of a PR practitioner is ‘influence.’
A PR practitioner is as productive and result-oriented as his/her influence. Influence must however not be reduced to one’s network and net-worth. A person might have these and yet be unable to produce result when it matters most.
The influence of a Public Relations practitioner that I call his/her currency, is a mix of multiple factors that range from but not limited to knowledge, experience, network, net-worth, analytics, agility and dynamism.
The ability of the practitioner to bring these multiple factors to bear in the discharge of his/her duties determines not only how successful he/she will be, but how much of value he/she brings to the organisation.
The practitioners’ application of this influence will ensue that they do not divert from their core functions and begin to struggle for relevance with the sales and marketing people. Each function has its undeniable relevance to the well-being of the organisation. For the PR practitioners, the demonstration of their influence is not in self-aggrandizement or speaking of high sounding language that does not communicate but in the analysis of trends, be they global or local that may impact on the fortunes of the organisation.
These trends could include but not limited to government policies, economy, politics, environment, security, traditional institutions and cultural values. All of this has direct impact on the successful operations of any organisation irrespective of its size. The accurate analysis of these trends will enable the Public Relations practitioner to provide strategic thought leadership direction to their organisations.
The beauty embedded in the provision of this strategic thought leadership by the PR practitioner is that it should not be done as a nice-to-have policy but as a must-have for the organisation, if it must survive going into the future as a sustainable business entity.
The influence of the Public Relations practitioner does not end at providing this strategic leadership direction. It is his/her job to ensure that this is sold and bought by the C-Level executives and other critical stakeholders within the organisation. It would ensure that the thoughts are distilled into actionable and track-able deliverables in the execution of both the commercial and non-commercial functions of the organisations to ensure its profitability within its environment of operations, especially in a VUCA clime like ours. In a nutshell, it is the PR practitioner that is at the core of influencing the organisation’s operating system in line with prevailing trends but situated within global best practice at every time.
This currency of influence by the PR practitioner is so critical that it plays a major role in aiding the go-to market strategy of the organisation, it inspires the business continuity plan and provides input into the business forecast in the short, medium and long term. These are no doubt key deciding factors for the sustainability of any organisation.
The power of his/her influence prevents crisis from happening by effectively managing stakeholders and coveting them to advocates for the organisation.
Understanding the issues, putting them in perspectives and making SMART recommendations make the Public Relations person stand out. He or she must be analytical, critical, objective and discerning in managing issues to get the best out of the situation for the organisation. Here lies the influence of the profession and the practitioners.
The PR professional doesn’t know it all but he or she must have the ability to apply his or herself on the job through continuous learning, never making assumptions, strong in engagement within and outside the organisation, aggregate relevant information and tailor them to provide advice, shape perspectives and influence behavioural change for better efficiency and enhanced productivity.
The critical demand of this influence of the practitioner is further heightened by the fact that while others can afford to drop the ball, he or she must be very weary of this because the consequences of that slip could either extinct or leave an indelible scare on the organisation. That is how influential and critical the role of a PR person can be to an organisation.
With this understanding of the currency of a PR practitioner, practitioners need to stop struggling for relevance anywhere they found themselves. The focus should be on building capacity to earn this influence and to exert it for the good and survival of their organisations.
As PR practitioners, we have a duty to stop demeaning the art and science of PR practice through our practices by reducing it to media relations and organising press conferences. Although these tactical actions are part of the whole, but the holistic embrace of it from a strategic thought leadership perspective leads to the exertion of influence. Therein lie the possibilities of harnessing the full potential of the practice.
Let’s exercise influence and lead discourse that shape opinions, policies and policy makers through the strata of organisations both public and private.
Godfrey Adejumoh, a PR practitioner, contributes this piece from Lagos. Reach him -firstname.lastname@example.org