Future proofing your in-house PR

“Treat PR like a rolling MBA to ensure you adapt to the changing landscape.”

Speaking to an audience of in-house PR practitioners on Thursday morning, Stephen Doherty, Head of Communications at Barclays, outlined how important continuous training, education and learning is to ensure PRs stay on top of their game.

The event, organised by the PR Moment and hosted at the stylish 3 Monkeys PR office in central London, Doherty, alongside Tom Barton, Head of Communications at Capgemini and Angie Moxham, CEO of 3 Monkeys PR, gave their insight on how in-house professionals can future proof their PR teams.

Using his experience at Barclays, Doherty outlined how important training and development should be, so much so, Barclays has recently partnered with the Said Business School at Oxford University to devise a year-long academic course to ensure their Comms team are not only appropriately qualified to write, pitch and tell stories; but equally to understand the language of business and gain a firm foundation in the banking sector. As PR people, we cannot simply rely of our soft skills, Doherty argued, we need to be as comfortable with the inner workings of our businesses if we are going to offer a high level of service in the PR function.

Why is this so important? Because as PRs we have an important and somewhat unique role within our organisations, with arguably a disproportionate level of access to the executive ‘C’ suite and privileged information. “PRs don’t always appreciate the position that they have to be influencers and role models in their business”. However, in order to do this, “PR professionals need to be as comfortable as colleagues in sister functions like legal and finance in understanding all aspects of the business”. After all, Doherty noted, people always notice how we as Communications people behave? We are a key point of contact for staff, people see us and what what we do, therefore we need to be positive, honest and trustworthy so that others will take a lead from our levels of optimism, energy, and enthusiasm.

“PRs don’t always appreciate the position that they have to be influencers and role models in their business.”

However, in order to do this, PR professionals need to be as comfortable as colleagues in sister functions like legal and finance in understanding all aspects of the business. After all, Doherty noted, people always notice how we as Communications people behave? We are a key point of contact for staff, people see us and what what we do, therefore we need to be positive, honest and trustworthy so that others will take a lead from our levels of optimism, energy, and enthusiasm.

Having stressed the importance of professional development, Doherty turned to measurement of his teams work at Barclays. Refreshingly neither Doherty or his bosses are interested in big coverage books, instead he is measured on the level of stakeholder relations and brand reputation. This is measured twice a year by YouGov and the resulting gage of public and influencer opinion is so important that the measurement is one of the eight success indicators the business publishes each year. By focusing on outcomes rather than outputs empowers the Communications Team at Barclays to make wise and educated decisions about what PR to do, when to do it and what channels to use. There isn’t a pressure to put out any old news just to get column inches, instead every opportunity is weighted up and judged on merit.

Docherty closed by stressing the evolving toolkit required by in-house practitioners.Doherty identified that senior stakeholder management is often significantly under-rated by PR folk. At Barclays, the CEO’s mantra is that “leaders drive culture and culture drives performance” it is our role as PR’s to coach and get better at dealing with our leaders so that they can be better communicators of our company’s missions, visions and values.

Naturally, social media is a ‘must have’ skill in a PR toolkit but perhaps more importantly than anything else, Docherty identified the need for in-house PR’s to remain practitioners rather than relying on agencies to deliver on campaigns.

“We earn our voice and respect by being experts at PR, whilst we need to be good at agency management, we need to continue to clock up experience writing and selling to the media to ensure we stay fresh. Don’t diminish your ability as a skilled adviser. If you don’t have the experiences you can’t be an agency partner let alone a strong PR.”

By becoming fluent in the language of business and continuing to focus on our professional development, the future looks bright for in-house PR’s who today, more than ever before, are getting the Board recognition they deserve. Now we have it, it is our responsibility to ensure we are up to the task.

This blog is based on an event organised by the PR Moment which took place on Thursday 6th November 2014. Additional information about the event can be found here.

Posted by Adam T

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