Why a successful PR strategy depends on engaged leadership
Here’s a scenario you may be familiar with: The senior leadership team at your company decides it’s time for your communication team to implement a new PR Strategy they’ve been cooking up for the past month. As far as they’re concerned, the campaign is ready to launch by year-end, and it includes a repositioning of the business to make it more enticing to new, larger clients with bigger, hairier problems. Yet, nobody knows what they’re actually doing.
The design team scurries to develop ads and digital graphics without a clear theme in place. Marketing doesn’t know if the campaign involves television commercials, email sequences, or social media posts. Sales can’t articulate what a “bigger, hairier problem” looks like, while Customer Success is stuck sorting through old complaints to pinpoint any recurring customer issue that hasn’t already been solved.
With so much confusion already permeating the business, leadership’s plan to reposition the company is already falling apart. That’s the problem with a top-down approach; when the top calls the shots while excluding transparent communication, specialist knowledge, and departmental collaboration.
Neglectful leadership in PR makes for bad business
What happens when leadership isn’t involved in PR, marketing, or growth strategies? You get handed a company that can’t run on two feet.
For example, consider a brand with its different departments focusing on their tasks separately, even though they’re working on the same project:
Customer support isn’t talking to IT about pre-existing complaints;
Finance isn’t talking to Operations about the budget;
HR isn’t talking to anyone – nobody talks to them, anyway.
At this rate, is there even going to be a final product?
What was supposed to be an effortless top-down approach to bring the CEO’s brilliant idea to fruition is falling apart – from the top – all the way down.
When leadership does not champion the comms strategy and the company’s reputation, the messaging becomes fluffy, diluted, and siloed. The process of building awareness becomes someone else’s, and therefore, no one’s priority – until challenging trading conditions emerge and then everyone starts throwing cups of water on a raging house fire.
Silos damage PR strategy
More common than not, silos in the corporate world seem inevitable. Everyday rifts between individuals and whole teams propagate the work environment and culture. Differences in geographical location, disconnected data systems, department operations and prerogatives, and employee rankings all create a unique, disjointed corporate machine. Each nuance from these divisions fragment unified companies, and that breeds a silo mentality.
The risk of breeding a silo mentality exists whatever the size of company or operational locations. Be it amongst individuals, management, or whole departments, competition and miscommunication heighten the chances of a silo.
I’ll continue the hypothetical story as an example:
The Director of Sales is about to move up from his position and needs to fill his empty spot with a new face. Before he’s ready to name a successor, other employees catch wind of the news and race to outperform any co-worker they deem competition:
- Jake bashes through calls to stack sales for his roster.
- René discovers a new way to enter and organise data. Even though she’s now completing tasks twice as fast, she isn’t sharing her new strategy with her team or IT.
- Tsu, who manages HR and isn’t even part of Sales but wants a promotion, too, searches for a new way to accommodate ICP pain points without including cross-communications for other departments to stay on the same page.
What just happened?
- Jake rushed all his calls. As a direct link between the company and its clients, he’s now damaging brand reputation and showing that PR doesn’t invest time and care into the people it wants to connect with.
- René is losing information and hurting her team and others. Her new system strategy doesn’t account for a lack of data crossover between the different programs the company uses, and she isn’t verbalising what she’s done. So, no one else knows where to look if they need to follow up and all branches are missing key information.
- Tsu has gone rogue and is not only causing confusion between HR and other departments, but also amongst her own team members.
When workers compete, you get a mess that’s harder to clean up than scheduling a group Zoom meeting between time zones. Employees develop a narrow vision of what a good or successful PR strategy looks like. Either they’re too focused on their own perspective to think outside of the box, or they’re entirely oblivious to it.
The same is true when no one feels ownership or involved in the PR strategy. It is not a competition; it should be a storyline that includes all teams in its creation and distribution.
Unhappy teams, as well as competition, lead to bad PR strategy
Say there is no competition, but the company lacks a structured internal communication system. In these environments, employees often suffer the most. Feeling unheard or undervalued, they struggle to recognise the worth of their presence in a company’s mission, how what they’ve done for the company has already benefited the business, or what the company’s main business objective is.
Disheartened employees can’t act as a good bridge between your brand and your clients. Rather, they stigmatise your business and damage its reputation, whilst inducing a negative work environment bent on poor communication, even if only by accident. This in turn strips your plans of a PR Strategy designed to positively influence your target audience.
Don’t let that happen under your leadership.
A successful PR strategy needs leaders present from day one
A client of EC-PR, 2i testing, took their PR strategy seriously. The leadership engaged with and workshopped the communications strategy resulting in fantastic outcomes all round.
“When I think back to the lack of focus and structure that our message had originally to where we are today, for both our clients and our staff, it’s been a game changer for us and massive thanks to EC-PR for that.”
Before working with EC-PR, 2i lacked a way to differentiate itself from the competition. With no unique selling point, 2i’s employees couldn’t communicate why potential clients should invest in the company’s services. Our first step to re-defining 2i was through a bottom-up approach that used messaging lab workshops and implemented a communications strategy based on the former’s data.
After three months, 2i reported outstanding results:
- Less ambiguity in internal and external communications.
- An uptick in new business.
- More quality candidates to further corporate growth.
- A unified understanding of what they should communicate to ideal clients.
- A team able to comfortably express why and how to communicate throughout its branches.
In turn, its departments all represent the same brand and voice under a united leadership, distinguishing 2i as a unique and professional expert in its field.
Why to get buy-in to PR strategy from all your leaders
You have two approaches to building the foundations of a solid PR Strategy, but only one of them works for gaining leadership support: the bottom-up approach. You’re a middle-ranking employee or contract worker in the marketing department of a client. You aren’t in the kind of position to speak to the big dogs up top, but you need a PR Strategy that makes a cohesive work environment. Which means you need leadership support.
Leaders in lower-ranking positions, like how a store manager reports to a regional manager, act as the middlemen between whole teams and upper management. They are the main communicators and prime advocates for an effective cross-departmental strategy plan to work properly. They are the cogs that turn a multifaceted company into a holistic, well-oiled machine. Gaining buy-in relies on strong communication skills.
So, you need leadership on your side. Here’s how you do it.
How to get leadership on board for a winning PR strategy
An article by Harvard Business breaks down a 7 step-by-step process for swaying leadership in your favour. EC-PR has condensed it into three: consideration, articulation, and inclusivity.
In pitching to a client, timing is everything. The same can be said for pitches to leadership. Daily events, individual moods and even the hour of the day influence whether it’s appropriate to introduce your grand idea. Telling management while they’re trying to enjoy their lunch break or in the middle of a frustrating problem-solving moment is likely to put a sour taste in their mouth, after all.
You wouldn’t go on a blind date without pocketing a few conversation starters as a backup. You shouldn’t propose a PR strategy without a warm approach, either. Your leadership is your audience. What is the best way to communicate with them? Use that to your advantage while remaining clear, concise and transparent.
Nothing can be done by one person, alone. Not in business, at least. If you’re building a team and asking for support, people want to feel included, represented and valued. Ask for their opinion as a superior and expert and as someone with more access to other departments than you. Suggest partnerships with specialists from other divisions who already have interpersonal connections for easy alignment and to get the ball rolling even sooner.
Silos are a job for leadership to fix
Here’s where those awful team-building games come in… I’m joking, but there’s still something to be said about team-building.
Silos emerge when leadership fails to implement a collaborative work culture: individuals compete, departments get isolated, and communication falls apart. There isn’t room for a PR campaign to reach the masses.
In a united company, industry knowledge is shared amongst all departments. When it’s finally time to sit down and curate a new PR strategy, having multiple perspectives makes a difference. More heads mean more innovative ideas.
With insight from others better in tune with the strengths and responsibilities of their own department now at your wayside, popcorn their input with these questions in mind:
- What is the purpose of this campaign?
- Who is the target audience?
- What is the best way to illustrate your company’s goals and CTA?
- What is an appropriate timeline for project completion and release?
- Which departments and department leaders need to be included for this project to work?
As with pitching to gain leadership’s favour, leadership also needs to remain transparent and open-minded, allowing others to brainstorm until a consensus is made.
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Why leadership benefits from being present at PR strategy workshops
Perhaps I should ask, what’s the benefit of leadership not being present at strategy workshops? If it’s for and/or by the company, leadership should be there.
A successful PR strategy is only possible when senior leadership is involved in public relations. You don’t reach your target audience with poor internal communications, disengaged employees and a slack backbone. Communicating with target audiences is the kind of jungle that PR leadership rules over. Businesses should use that to their advantage.
One study even shows the empirical benefits of engaged leadership. When leadership fulfils its role as head of an operation, positive employee engagement soars. Strategy workshops can empower employees to build healthy relationships with their co-workers and clients. Employees should feel competent in their ability, helpful to others, able to make their own choices, and have meaning in their place of work.
When leadership is present, executives can accommodate employee desires by showing they have an equal responsibility to participate in workshops, nurture a free-to-speak environment, and outwardly appreciate employee contributions.
Leadership enforces internal communications, which in turn and naturally, benefits external public relations. For all the above reasons, fostering engagement and preventing corporate silos from day one allows leadership to take control and own both PR success and that of the entire business.
As you lead a company, be it from the middle management or board level, consider your role in PR strategy, then read on to explore how good leadership builds a distinct brand.
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