Halloween is scary—not my favorite holiday to be honest. It’s dark. Things jump out at you. I’m not in control. But when I meet a company that doesn’t have or believe in public relations (PR), I want to hide under the bed.
Having worked for multiple Fortune 100 companies, and some smaller ones as well, I can tell you that when things get bad, PR and human resources (HR) are the first to feel the brunt. If you’re not hiring and you’re scaling back business, why do you need those functions? When the market picks back up, those are the first departments to see expansion.
I’m here to tell you that PR is a necessity, at every stage of your business.
- Without PR, someone else is telling your story.
- Your reputation is at stake—no matter whether you’re in growth mode, coasting, downsizing, or crisis.
- If you think you can just hire a Crisis Communications expert when you need it, it’s a bit like trying to buy car insurance after you’ve wrecked your car. Too late.
You hire budget and finance people to ensure that your revenue exceeds your expenses, right? Why would you not hire someone to ensure your reputation is solid from day 1 until the day you sell your company or close the doors? Think PR is just a cost center? I’d venture to say it is the most important part of your profit center.
So, what exactly is PR? Let’s start with what it’s NOT. It is not advertising. It is not branding. According to the Public Relations Society of America, “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their public.” OK, that does sound vague. And I get why you might say “And why do I need that?”
Here’s the quick and dirty. You can pay for or earn positive PR—media, social media, speaking engagements, and news stories. All of this contributes to how your customers, investors, employees, community, government, really all stakeholders, view you. And you know that goes right to your bottom line. It impacts sales, recruiting and retention, and investments.
There’s a downside to PR as well. Damage control, crisis communications, and reputation repair. Back to the car insurance example. If your company hits a crisis (labor union strike, product recall, legal scandal) and you haven’t built those relationships, earned that trust, told your story your way, your reputation and that of your company is in someone else’s hands—not in your control. To me, that is way scarier than Halloween.
Your PR professional is more than a storyteller and relationship builder; they are a first responder. If your PR pro does the job well, those relationships pay off when a crisis rears its head. Building trust with the media, with elected officials and regulators, even customers, can reduce the devastating impact of a crisis. Yes, the story may still get told, but you can have more input into the content and tone of the message. And, with those relationships, the trust and transparency can result in a fairer story.
So, you might think: I’m a small company. I have salespeople and a lawyer. They can tell my story and handle crises, can’t they? Would you trust your finances to HR? Would you trust your legal defense to your receptionist? You hire the professional to fit the job.
Wouldn’t you prefer to write the story you want to tell rather than try to influence a story once it’s been told?
Good PR professionals are not cheap, but they earn their weight in gold. Not having PR can be much more expensive. What is your reputation worth?
Patty Deutsche is CEO and founder of Volterra Communications LLC, a communications consulting firm. She works with small and midsize companies to help build and protect their reputations. She’s been in some “scary” situations and much prefers to prevent those rather than respond to them and clean up afterward.
Read more of Patty’s thought leadership here.