Column: Creating value with PR

Whether you have in-house public relations counsel or are working with an outside firm, integrating these professionals into all levels of your company or organization can pay dividends both on a day-to-day basis as well as in the unfortunate event of a crisis.

When considering PR counsel, the first thing that often comes to mind is media relations, which should be a part of any well-rounded multi-tiered marketing campaign. Obtaining coverage through a third-party source can go a long way in raising awareness, changing perceptions and/or selling an organization’s product or service. However, public relations counsel also can be invaluable in connecting an organization’s members to civic and nonprofit groups, implementing strategies and tactics to increase your company’s community involvement and visibility, and when dealing with an unexpected crisis

Although public relations is a valuable component of any integrated marketing program, the value of good counsel goes beyond the tactical. It starts with building trust throughout the company, from top managers in the c-suite to front-line staff.

Connecting to the community

Being an active member of the community in which an organization conducts business is becoming an increasingly important component of an effective PR and marketing program. This may include everything from volunteerism to involvement at the advisory committee or board levels. And, it includes involvement in both civic and charitable organizations. Volunteer activities are not only the right thing to do, but giving of one’s time at any level can raise the visibility of a company and create valuable relationships that can pay off in the long term.

A PR professional can be extremely helpful in making these connections. It starts by providing access to people throughout the company and spending time getting to know them beyond their day-to-day job responsibilities. One size does not fit all. What is of interest to one person may not be to another. The match-making process begins by assessing an individual’s interests and then matching these interests with an organization that can utilize their skills and put their passion for the cause to good use. Through this process, we have been able to facilitate introductions for numerous individuals with local civic and nonprofit organizations.

Building on individual strengths

Having your PR professional integrated into your entire company will help build on the strengths of individuals in order to raise the visibility and credibility of your organization. For example, there are some who enjoy public speaking, while others shake in their boots at the prospect. Others enjoy and are good at writing. By spending one-on-one time with people, their strengths and interests can be identified and then opportunities can be sought for public speaking engagements, presentations, authored articles, white papers, blogging, etc. All of these are useful tactics to not only establish an individual’s expertise, but to raise the visibility of a company among its target audiences.

In times of crisis

No company is immune from crisis; either a crisis of reputation or one that may have legal implications. For this reason, all organizations should have a crisis plan in place that outlines the basic actions to take when a crisis occurs.

However, just as important as planning, is having PR counsel available 24-7 when a crisis is unfolding. A good PR professional can provide level-headedness and an outside perspective when emotions are running high and strategic thinking is overrun by panic. But this cannot occur unless a strong foundation of trust has been established between the PR professional and the top echelon of management before a crisis occurs.

Your PR professional can be instrumental when immediate decisions need to be made and steps taken that are specific to the situation such as:

• when and how to release information to internal and external audiences;

• who should serve as the primary spokesperson(s);

• how to manage the flow of information and to control internal and external  rumor mills; and

• coming to a consensus on talking points and verbiage used in press statements and media interviews.

The bottom line is simple: Don’t hide your PR professionals in the depths of a marketing department. The more they are working side-by-side with members of your organization and building trust, the more valuable they will be in promoting your organization on an on-going basis and in times of crisis .

Karen Kervin is the chief marketing officer for the Northwest regional law firm Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt, which has offices in, Vancouver, Portland, Seattle and Bend.

Krista Hildebrand is vice president and managing director of Frause, a full-spectrum communications firm with offices in Seattle and Portland.

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