In 2009 Annual Conference, Tuesday

FPRA Annual ConferenceFPRA Annual Conference

We can develop the very best PR plan, but without dedicated support and involvement of executive management, we can’t be totally successful. In many organizations when the management team huddles in the planning boardroom, PR professionals are still sitting in our offices unaware of the situation. This session, led by Joe Curley, APR, CPRC, outlined how we get our top executives to understand the importance of public relations counsel during the decision making process. It explores 10 proven strategies for earning a place in the boardroom huddle and making public relations an involved and indispensable part of our organization’s business planning.

Public relations is the most misunderstood profession Joe Curley, APR, CPRC knows. Even his mother doesn’t know what he does. While there are a lot of definitions out there, the one he likes is: “True public relations is the art of satisfying the annoyed without annoying the satisfied.”

Today, the letters “PR” take on new meaning, now they stand for personal relationships – the days of slick brochures substituting for customer relationships are over. Companies must make customers feel involved and wanted. It is up to us, as agents of change, to deliver that message. We need management’s ear to do any of this, and sadly many of us don’t.

So why aren’t PR folks always loved by management? Remember the big three auto makers? They flew big corporate jets to Washington to get the bailout money. We have to make better decisions … it’s our role to do that, where were the PR people when this was going on?

Lawyers and accountants are already on the regular list of those invited to the boardroom, why them not us? Because they bring decision-making information to the boardroom whereas we bring in last month’s clippings.

Getting management’s ear relies on planning and good action. We need to help impact the bottom line and organize and participate in making policy – that can’t happen if we’re not part of the senior management team. And at times, that means we need to tell them what they need to know, not what they want to hear; at times we must tell management the Emperor has no clothes.

Good advice creates its own demand

There’s plenty of bad advice out there, too. The New York flyover of Air Force One – secret photo op even though they knew it would spark fears of another terrorist attack. That’s stupid stuff and we need to be smarter than that.

10 steps to a boardroom seat:

  1. Don’t wait to be asked – The CEO won’t come to your office for help because they don’t understand the resources of the PR office, hence don’t know how PR can help. Education, example and action must come proactively from us. If you only write down one thing today, don’t wait to be asked.
  2. Know what keeps the CEO up at night – What vexes the CEO, vexes the organization. Focus your PR activities to support these issues and you’ll align yourself with top management. Monitor emerging issues.
  3. Analyze the big picture, not just a snapshot – Present the CEO with tomorrow’s issues, NOT yesterday’s news clips. Anticipate and prepare for what’s ahead that may affect the organization and how PR can factor into the solution.
  4. Get involved in the company’s policy-making process – Don’t just apologize to your audiences for bad management decisions later. By getting into the boardroom, we stop bad things before they happen.
  5. Learn the function of “environment scanning” – To detect early signs of emerging issues/trends that may impact the organization. Then bring the CEO solutions, not problems. So often we alert, not bring in a plan of action.
  6. Serve as the conscience of the organization – To preserve established relationships and forge new public alliances. PR is the only department with the resources to protect the company’s present position during crisis/conflict. The accountants and lawyers aren’t going to do anything in a crisis, it’s our role to be out there, no other department can save the company.
  7. Develop and present action-oriented, “decision-making” information to management – Provide strategy rather than activity status reports or yesterday’s news clips. CEOs expect it and manage by it. They want information they can act on, they don’t want reports.
  8. Know everything you can about your company’s operations … you’re the storyteller – We can’t develop plans without factoring in the outside world. If we don’t know the story, how are we going to communicate? Otherwise, the word doesn’t get out. We need to work the company; we do that at Universal, you don’t know who’s in that mascot costume because it might be the CEO.
  9. Monitor the direct competition and the marketplace – We can’t develop plans without factoring in the outside world. We need to know what our competitors’ are doing in the marketplace as a whole.
  10. Focus your PR activities with objectives that clearly support the organization’s business plan

Value of a boardroom PR seat:

  • It gives you access to top management – At Universal, I answer directly to the chairman.
  • It gives you the opportunity to help create company policy instead of apologizing for the company’s poor decisions or actions – When you’re at the top level, you can now say “stop, we can’t do that.”
  • It gives you credibility as a planner and strategic thinker – When we stop bringing in the news clips, and bring in action plans, it gives you credibility. Remember, good advice creates its own demand.
  • It makes top management members of your PR support team – a critical element for success – If your plan is not embraced by management, when management buys into your plan, they’re part of it. Helps us be a team with management, rather than just, “Oh, that was PR’s stupid idea.”
  • It elevates the role of PR to the proper executive level to allow PR to “do the right thing.” – Not just a loss of goodwill, when management gets caught up in a crisis, everything else goes out the window and the more the company suffers.

Case study: Universal was going to open a ride based on the movie, “Twister.” We were millions and millions of dollars deep in a 25-city promotional campaign tour to open the ride. A week before it was set to open, the worst tornadoes in the state’s history hit, destroying 2,400 homes and killing 41 people. Management didn’t connect the dots. We had to go to management and say, “We shouldn’t open this ride.” They were basing the decision on turnstile clicks and loss of admission dollars, we were basing it on it’s the right thing to do. They accepted our recommendation to delay the opening and suspend all promotional activity out of respect for the community. From a PR standpoint, the  national and international news contacted us for so many follow ups we didn’t have to spend a million dollars to do a grand opening, and Universal received countless media and community awards for delaying the opening.

Final word: If Murphy of Murphy’s Law had good PR counsel, we’d remember his first name.

About the speaker:

Joe Curley, APR, CPRC has practiced public relations in Florida for more than 35 years and is now semi-retired. He was the co-founder and president of one of Florida’s largest PR firms, Curley & Pynn Public Relations Management in Orlando, which he sold in 2004. Currently a public relations and marketing consultant at his own firm Stingray Solutions, Inc., Joe is retained by Universal Studios Parks & Resorts as Senior Corporate Communications Counsel, international marketing & PR. He is directly involved in theme park projects in Singapore, Dubai and South Korea. He is a past national president of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Foundation and a past state president of Florida Public Relations Association (FPRA). In 1993, and again in 2005 he was honored with FPRA’s highest statewide award for outstanding professional leadership. He currently serves on the Communications and Public Relations Advisory Board for the University of Florida.

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