By Sheri De Carlo
“The contagion of fake news is not new. It is just much more dangerous,” says Daniel Tisch, President and CEO of Argle Public Relationships and Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS), who along with guests from McMaster University’s Master of Communications Management (MCM) program, welcomed expert speakers, seasoned practitioners and leading researchers – all of whom provided valuable insights into emerging trends that are rapidly shaping and changing the public relations profession in fundamental ways – at Elevate PR Conference on December 5, 2017. “We are in an industry that is ripe for disruption. Public relations is the new marketing; marketing should not lead public relations. PR should focus on every public important to the organization, and align communication with strategy and purpose. Marketing focuses on customers,” says Tisch. “The key role of PR in future is to apply critical thinking to organizational issues and how to handle them in future. What’s right? What’s good for society? It’s PR.”
“In a moment of crisis there are two departments that an organization listens to: legal and communications,” says Alex Sévigny, Director of the Master of Communications Management program, and an Associate Professor of Communication Studies and Communication Management at McMaster University. The MCM program offers a graduate, executive-level degree designed for communications executives, educators and entrepreneurs. “We founded the program as a means for leaders to elevate the communications profession.”
“We are stewards of relationships, building trust through ethical actions based on values. Intangible assets are critical to the value of business: the value of your reputation and brand, says Tisch. If corporate reputation is positive and strong, the stock market share value drops less in a crisis and reacts more favourably to business growth. “When your reputation is toxic there are real consequences. In the case of United Airlines, it was a customer service crisis, not a public relations issue. The public relations department has to go in and cleanup a mess. It harms stock price. Behaviour above all else is critical. Ninety per cent of an organization’s resources are oriented at communicating out. It is more important than ever to listen to an audience that is not listening to them. When you have listening, relationships, and trust, risk gets smaller and opportunities larger.”
In the words of the Dalai Lama, ‘When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.’ “Authenticity is a commitment to listen,” says Dr. Terence Flynn, Associate Professor at McMaster University and Adjunct Professor at S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.
“The reason it’s called public relations is because it’s not just about communications. It used to be, now its de rigueur; it’s to be expected,” says Tisch. “Brands more and more are taking a stand. It’s not about just about pushing content. It’s about building trust by communicating values. No one will remember the others, but they remember the first – the leader, isn’t that what we want? It’s not the content. Content may be KING, but relationships are ROYALTY.”
“Corporate reputation can be driven by the employee base. If internal reputation is the same as what the external audience sees, then we’ve got some magic,” says Parm Chohan, Communications Advisor for the Town of Caledon. “Internal communications plays a big role to ensure that diversity and inclusion is embedded in workplace culture. Inclusion has to be personal to each staff member, for it to fully be effective. Communications leaders need to ensure trust is built with all stakeholders which can be established through strong and impactful relationships”
“Immigration has increased year after year for the last 10 years and that has resulted in many skilled workers in Canada, with much more purchasing power than ever before. Building relationships with this diverse consumer base is extremely important,” says Chohan. “This is your potential consumer base too, which is why investing in diversity and inclusion is critical. There is a much better chance of building these relationships if the internal workforce is itself diverse. If diversity (of thought) and inclusion can be harnessed, it can then help achieve business goals. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) decision making is another critical area. Diversify your community engagement plan and team. The more diversified your team is, the more diversified the charities that your organization supports will likely be, with a better understanding of various cultural norms and sensitivities. How is diversity harnessed and used to invest in your organization? Diversity plus inclusion equals improved business outcomes.”
“The C-Suite is open to PR more than ever before,“ says Tisch. “We need to think differently and broadly about all the issues that are impacting a business. We need to be in our head, hearts and guts.”
“Be smart business people. Show how you can contribute. Look at quality of relationships. Be solution-finders,” says Andrea Price, Director, MCM(c) is Corporate Communications for Dynacare. She discussed her research on the role of the CEO and the trusted advisor. She has been researching the value of trusted advisors, as perceived by the CEO, in her MCM research. Through interviews with chief executives, she offered the keys to building a value-add relationship with the CEO.
“Dare to be transparent, passionate and humble,” Price says. “The closer to the top of an organization you get, the fewer people you can actually talk to. CEOs have a need for honest candid feedback. The top three takeaways from her research: the CEO chooses his/her advisor, and it is important to note it can be from any department in the organization. Expertise and experience matters, direct and honest feedback is most valued. “The CEO is looking for an advisor with strong business acumen. Their relationship is based on mutual trust and understanding, and knowing someone’s got your back. CEOs want you to challenge them, but ultimately they are responsible for making the decision; and once they do, they expect their advisor to actively support it.”
Valuing people and relationships is at the core of public relations, all communications is relational, whether it be offline or online, and this will not change in the future. Speaking with integrity demonstrates your strength of character. Public relations means exactly what it says; it facilitates an organization’s relationships with its publics, so as communicators we ought to mean what we say, or, as I like to say, walk your talk. Living up to your word and delivering on the promises of your brand builds personal connection. When you talk at people it’s harder to build relationships; you need to talk with them. Feedback is an opportunity to listen. Respond in a meaningful way, also know when to accept failure and when it’s time to move on. Developing relationships, and maintaining them is key, so is nurturing relationships with engaged stakeholders and influencers, with as much effort to build media relationships as you put into employee relationships. Relationships internally can help you be more prepared for organizational changes. When you know your team and others well, you can more easily modify strategy and direction, because you value your team and keep them informed. Start with the FUNdamentals… listen, really listen, be a person that’s enjoyable to be around, celebrate the work of your team and others, make real relationships when possible, most importantly, be a good person.
“Public relations is not just about communications, but also about action,“ says Tisch. “Because organizations need public relationships. Because communication builds empathy, understanding, respect and trust. Because the world needs people who practise communication with ethics and standards. Because communication is a business imperative – and a social good.”