Habit 1: Always Reference Higher Authority

10 Habits to Optimize PR Effectiveness

by Max Meng | March 11, 2009

Over the years, I have observed 10 behaviors public relations professionals must become skilled at to have a seat at the corporate table. I refer to them as “10 Habits to Optimize PR Effectiveness” and I encourage all whom I counsel to follow them. I am going to share these 10 habits over the next ten weeks.

The first habit is to make it a matter of policy to always reference higher authority.

A good friend of mine, who heads a Public Affairs office in New York City for a worldwide organization, is an attorney. He confided to me when he gives advice as an attorney he is never questioned, but as a public affairs executive his counsel is always challenged. “It appears everyone thinks they know how to do public relations,” he said. “It’s as if the student knows more than the professor.” My friend is right.

Other disciplines support advice based on a body of knowledge, which in essence is the word or higher authority. For example, an attorney gives advice based on jurisprudence. A physician gives a diagnosis based on clinical experience and medical training. Even the Human Resource professional justifies an action based on company policy and procedures, which they have responsibility for. So, on what grounds does a public relations professional use to support a position or make recommendations?

A typical response I receive is my colleagues know me and trust me. Unfortunately, that is nothing less than saying they trust my “good intentions.” Most professionals today don’t have the longevity with an organization to allow them to make withdraws against their personal accounts of creditability and trust—both result from deposits make over time and interaction with others. In our fast pace business environment and high executive turnovers, public relations professionals are usually building or rebuilding creditability at the same time they are asked to produce results. So, again why should your colleagues trust your opinion?

As with other disciplines, creditability can be established by referencing higher authority when proposing solutions. This can be done in three ways:

1.Make your objectives measureable.

I tell my people, “If you can’t measure it, don’t do it.” This rule of thumb seems to work well for us. I recommend benchmark measurements be taken before a campaign begins and measurements again along the way at key milestones to monitor changes in behavior among target audiences.

Advances in technology and online analytic tools now allow you to measure the reach of your messages, how well they resonate among your target audiences, and what changes in behavior you have achieved. Social media is rapidly becoming the keystone of all strategic public relations planning. Why? Because it can be measured. In addition to core persuasive writing skills, an effective public relations practitioner must have a solid understanding of statistics and analytical skills. Other support can be referencing the latest opinion research and secondary research available.

2.Use case studies, whenever possible

Use case studies, whenever possible, to support your recommendations and emphasize outcomes that where achieved in the case example rather than dwelling on the tactics only. Use communications theory and borrow from principles of marketing, psychology, and other social sciences to support your conclusions.

3.Never forget your ultimate client, who is your CEO and senior management team.

Practitioners sometimes allow themselves to be pulled in different directions—serving many internal clients—and forgetting their unique responsibility, which is to advance the mission of the organization. Make sure your public relations strategies are focused on outcomes that advance the organization’s mission and to help reach its business goals. In this way you appeal to the group and the great good that will be accomplished.

Have your major initiatives first endorsed by your CEO and senior management team, which means your plans become their program, and you their agent.

In conclusion, effective practitioners often remind their colleagues of their accountability to some higher authority: the company mission; the customers, the board of directors, the CEO or other key stakeholders. When this is done, you are viewed with a key function and with a seat at the table.