PR needs to spend less time feeding the haters

  • Opinion
  • November 28, 2016
  • Carrick Graham
PR needs to spend less time feeding the haters

It’s no wonder that PR is second fiddle to marketing.
 
With an ever-increasing focus on budget lines, support functions are usually the first in-line to be asked to find savings that can then be channeled to support marketing initiatives. And fair enough too.

While I would be the first to argue the benefits of PR for a company or organisation, times have changed and PR needs to step up to the plate and be more commercially savvy.
 
The world has dramatically changed over the last decade, particularly the erosion in support for businesses and corporations. Some PR experts would claim that this is exactly the reason why businesses need to ‘engage’ and ‘communicate’ with ‘stakeholders’, more so than ever before.
 
While true that talking to people helps resolve points of difference, a reality check is needed.
 
The notion of a corporation engaging with aggrieved or agitated stakeholders in an effort to say ‘we’re working together to find sensible solutions…’ should be questioned. Efforts at appeasement need to be recognised for what they really are – just PR.
 
Dragging senior executives into a stakeholder meeting with third parties – and with people who really don’t like the company they’re working for, or the product it sells, is not a positive experience, and quite frankly is a waste of time. The only benefit is that the PR team gets a boost by showing colleagues what they have to put up with.
 
Throwing money at, let’s say environmental groups who oppose mining exploration in wildness areas, in the hope that they will suddenly change their minds and support resource applications, is simply throwing shareholders’ money down the drain.
 
Here’s how this plays out. The environment group gets paid money to attend and receives a large donation to ‘help’ the organisation under the guise of building third-party support and liaison. The hope for the mining company is that they demonstrate that they’re listening to, and taking on board, environmentalists’ concerns.
 
The reality is quite different. The environmental group and its activists get to see who is who within the corporation, learns about the plans of the company and gets a capital injection into its bank account for good measure. As they’re committed to saving the planet, when the time comes for a local authority to grant resource consent for mining, they are as opposed to the idea as strongly as they were at the start.
 
All this is fascinating to a PR person, but meanwhile in an environment where marketing departments face ongoing market pressures and intense competition, PR teams have an opportunity to demonstrate more commercial value to marketing.
 
For their part, marketing should be asking their PR team to provide market intelligence about influencers that, for starters, may be driving regulatory change or who are pushing for marketing restrictions that result in increased costs and undermine brand propositions. This is the next level up from a simple stakeholder map.

They should also be asking their PR team to dive into the public affairs playbook and seek an understanding of how their traditional and non-traditional competitors are seeking to change the playing field.
 
By undertaking these sorts of activities, marketing will learn the opportunities that come from understanding line of sight and fact-based political, regulatory, market and competitor intelligence.
 
For PR teams, continuing to push for ‘engagement strategies’ with third parties that takes up a lot of management time further risks undermining their position as a key support function.

  • Carrick Graham runs Parnell-based public affairs firm GMS Management. In 2015, Metro writer Peter Newport wrote an extensive profile on Graham, covering his career, various controversies and approach to PR.      

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