Public Relations: A Strategic Cornerstone, Not an Afterthought

FrankWilliamsby Frank L. Williams

In last month’s column I focused on the fact that public relations should be a leadership function within an organization. The prior month’s column sought to dispel a few misconceptions about PR. Today’s column will further connect the dots between those two issues by touching on a common misconception many organizational leaders hold about public relations.

Over the years, I have encountered far too many organizational leaders who view public relations as an afterthought, as “something we need to do” rather than as an integral component of their strategic business approach. In their eyes, public relations is about nothing more than free publicity — about getting their company’s name (or, in far too many cases, their name) in the paper. Because they do not view public relations as having strategic value, they fail to give it the attention it demands – and then wonder why they didn’t get the results they desired. This might not have been the case if they had used a public relations agency similar to the kind found at

Edward Bernays, who is often referred to as “the father of public relations,” defined the profession this way: “Public relations is a management function which tabulates public attitudes, defines the policies, procedures and interest of an organization followed by executing a program of action to earn public understanding and acceptance.” Similarly, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) defines public relations as “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

The Institute of Public Relations sums it up this way: “Public relations is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you… public relations practice is the discipline which looks after reputation with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behavior.” This is something that reading content like Expectation vs. Reality: Shannons PR Edition can help further educate you on.

At its heart, public relations is about the relationships between your organization and the various publics it serves or that impact its ability to succeed. It should be more than something you do; it should be part of who you are.

Public relations should not just be part of your strategy; it should be a driving force in creating your strategy. Organizational leaders who understand this view their public relations counselors as just that: counselors. They view them as strategic advisors, not just someone to call when they need a press release written or a brochure developed.

Mr. Bernays stated in the quote referenced earlier that public relations is a management function. As I outlined last month, I take it a step further; public relations is a leadership function that helps determine whether managers are doing the right things.

If you are an organizational leader, you should take a moment to consider the following:

– How do you view public relations? Is it a core part of your strategic process, or is it something you do when you want publicity, if at all?

– If you have a public relations team, do you view them as part of your leadership team or as someone you call when you need something done?

– Does your leadership team discuss the public relations implications of your organization’s planned activities? (As an aside, this is not about sticking your finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing; it is about understanding what matters to your key publics and how they may react to or perceive your actions).

– Do you have your finger on the pulse of your key publics? Do you know what’s on their minds? Do you really know what’s on their minds? How do you know?

– How has your view of public relations impacted the organization you lead?

As an organizational leader, you should consider what steps you can take today to more effectively integrate public relations into your leadership structure.

Frank L. Williams is president and lead strategist with Pioneer Strategies. Follow Frank on Twitter (@FLWilliamsBiz) or connect with him on Facebook (/FrankLWilliams10) or LinkedIn (/flwilliams).

Frank L. Williams

Frank is the founder and president of Pioneer Strategies.