Back in the 90s, when I crossed to the dark side from journalism to corporate communications (I never did like the term “PR) I learned most organisations considered communication to be something you tacked onto the end of a project. You did something, then you decided whether or not to tell people about it.
Generally that meant instructing the PR person – a creature inhabiting a low level of the food chain - to “put out a press release”.
My, how the world has changed – and I don’t just mean the fact we’re now spoilt for choice when it comes to channels for getting our information out.
We’re living through a game-changing era, in every sense of the word. Interestingly, it seems many businesses and organisations remain stuck in that 90s way of being. They still consider communication to be someone else’s responsibility, well after the main event. But the world has moved on, and savvy businesses are realising it.
1. We can't 'decide and tell' any more.
Not so long ago, it was still possible to keep decisions under wraps and stay in control of the timing of announcements. Those days are gone. People can see deeply into your organisation and, in any case, they’re far more influenced by the comments they’re hearing about you from people in their own networks than by your official line.
You can’t control what “others say to others” about your organisation, yet that’s now the most powerful communication channel of all. Instead, you can make your best effort to positively influence that channel by being clear on what you stand for, making sure you communicate it consistently, and getting your house in order so that people’s experience of your business is positive, and aligns with what you say about yourself.
2. Everyone in your organisation is now a potent PR weapon.
You can no longer rely on specialist spin doctors to promote a positive image of your business. There’s been a dramatic rise in the credibility factor of everyday employees, or “a person like you”, and a corresponding decline in the influence of the CEO and others at the top. Everyone in your business now has a profound effect on how others perceive you and how, in turn, they comment to their networks about you.
Yet, many businesses continue to cite poor internal communication as the cause of ongoing issues, and are aware their staff have less-than-ideal skills when it comes to written and verbal communication. If you’re not making sure your team is fully informed on every decision, and equipping them to be the superior communicators they need to be in this reputation-driven age, you’re missing out on opportunities to harness the power of your very own reputation ambassadors. Even worse, you run the risk they’ll use their power for evil, not good, and poison their own social networks with highly influential, negative comments about your organisation.
3. Authenticity wins over spin.
We used to be able to gloss up our problems and put a more positive face to the world than we actually deserved. Now, the windows of the fishbowl have been reversed and the world is looking in. Business and organisational leaders who under-estimate this fact will do so at their peril.
We can’t just tell people how great we are, because they now have many ways of knowing the truth. Our only option is to actually be the best that we can be. If things are truly great, we can share that with everyone who wants to listen. When they’re not so great, we must also share those facts. It’s a warts-and-all world.
If you’ve never wanted to be in PR, it’s too late – you already are. The new rules of PR mean it’s everyone’s game. No-one can watch from the sidelines, hoping someone else will lead their team to victory.
Those who embrace the new rules will thrive. Those who don’t will be known, but for all the wrong reasons – or worse, they’ll simply fade away.