By Managing Director, Becher Townshend
Lately at Font we’ve been approached by a number of organisations asking the question, why bother with public relations. We understand the need for dealing with the media and we’re happy to talk when they ring, but why is it important to go beyond this and communicate in a pro-active way?
To answer such a question you really need to ask yourself, why is it important to build the reputation of the business you work in.
The trouble with this test is that it is usually difficult to quantify the economic value that reputation offers and for many in business looking beyond the bottom line can be difficult.
However, if you think of it on a personal level and how important your own reputation is among family, friends and the broader community, you start to get an understanding of its value.
This is because while it is intangible, reputation can mean a lot in terms of how other people respond to what you say and do.
If you have a poor reputation then the likelihood of people believing what you are saying is poor, however if you have built credibility as being somebody who knows about the particular issue you are commenting on, then it is likely the people around you are going to take your comments seriously.
The same goes for businesses.
I often use the example of a seesaw when talking about the issue of reputation and attempting to strike a balance between negative perceptions and positive ones.
If an organisation choses to only deal with issues as they arise, then they are likely to be seen poorly in the community mind.
This is because reactive responses tend to be on the back foot, in response to particular developments which are predominantly negative.
It is a fact of life that all businesses have a negative impact on others in some form of its operations, be it duty of care to others, occupational health and safety issues or just simply making poor judgments that have a significant impact on the community.
The truth of such matters is they are often unavoidable and while some public relations activity can usually mitigate the negative impacts, generally the organisation’s reputation will be damaged regardless.
Given that these reactive issues are usually unforeseen, then the only way to truly negate their impact is to build a solid reputation in the community that is built on integrity and honesty.
Such a reputation can only be built by a strategic communications plan, which is a considered approach to articulating what the organisation does, its values and why it’s role is important in the community.
Put simply, if you don’t tell people why your organisation is of value, how do you expect the community to understand when something goes wrong?
Take for example an aged care provider. As a rule in Tasmania these organisations are not-for-profit mission-based organisations.
However, due to the fact that they care for the elderly and the frail in the community, occasionally this duty of care can fail to meet appropriate public standards.
In these situations, we are often asked to assist in dealing with the negative fallout and often it as taking responsibility for what has happened, apologising for the mistake and taking steps to ensure it won’t happen again.
But the real proof of the success or failure of such an approach is not in the media release, the social media strategy or face-to-face engagement with family, friends and supporters of the facility. It is in the public’s response to what has occurred.
When you start reading letters to the editor or posts on social media which say things along the lines of, ‘I see such-and-such facility has had some troubles, while this may be the case, while my relative was there, the duty of care was excellent and the staff we fantastic etc’.
That is reputation and no amount of reactive communications will build that for an organization. It is only done through a carefully thought out strategy that shows the benefits of an organisation.
The bottom line being, if you don’t build up your reputation and go beyond simply responding to matters, when the chips are down and you need every friend you can get, unless you’ve gone beyond simply hoping that everybody understands the good work you do, you’re going to have real problems.
Now take this idea one step further and imagine if you built that reputation and then went out and articulated the strategic aims of your organization. If you talked about the policies that could deliver better outcomes to the community and the things your organisation is doing to be a better corporate citizen.
The sky is the limit. Just ask the people who wanted a lower rate of land tax in Tasmania, to see council reform, or for that matter to stimulate the economy through the removal of developer charges.
They all did one thing: came up with a plan, built their reputation and then articulated their message.
That is why you need good public relations – it is that simple.