The Why and How of PR for chief executives and busy professionals

By Boni Sones

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Page 5. How to conduct your own PR audit

  • Who does what?

As chief executive you maybe new to the organisation you run. You may not have helped devise the current PR strategy or the structure of communications in your organisation.

As a first step find out who deals with the media, what type of press coverage you receive and from whom. Who is responsible for monitoring your coverage, and how does the organisation come across?

Look at how well the present structure is working and decide whether or not your communication policies are effective. Training may be a good way to improve your organisational communication skills or alternatively it may be that you need to place greater importance on this function.

If the communication function is shared between policy and marketing find out how much time is being given to external communications. Look at the marketing material, the display material, the past press releases, the annual report, the web site. Ask yourself is it good enough?

Action: Talk to those who deal with communication find out what their frustrations and difficulties are before moving forward. Do their skills need to be improved? Are their mailing lists kept up to date, who monitors press coverage?

  • How can I improve our PR?

Be realistic. You won’t be able to improve your coverage overnight. Plan what you are going to say when to whom and what your most pressing messages are. The fact that you get staff to focus on external communications is important.

Involve others in what you are doing. Of course you will need to assess whether you are getting enough coverage and the right type, but there can be genuine reasons why the press are not picking up on what your organisation says.

You may need to create some “proactive” communication tools. You may need to commission a survey, build upon your story bank and get more real life case studies, or ask other opinion leaders or celebrities or MPs and ministers to support your campaigns and what you are saying.

Enthuse others with your ideas but don’t demoralise them. You’ll find they have ideas too and once they are given time to pursue them your coverage will improve. PR is labour intensive and hard work. Don’t underestimate this. Encourage others, tell them they have done a good job and suggest ways to improve their working practices.

Begin by writing a PR plan – this will help you even if you are the only person focusing on external communications. Write down “why you exist?”, “who you need to influence?” and your “key objectives” both short term and long term

Action: Talk to your staff. Find out what difficulties they have convincing others that your stories are newsworthy. Be creative and build up your story bank of real life case studies. Write your PR plan.

  • Involving the whole organisation

Although the role of PR is often allocated to one person or a department you need to highten awareness among all your volunteers and staff about how good media coverage will help your organisation to grow.

It is often the stories told round the coffee machine or in the pub that are the real newsworthy items. Messages travel orally, they don’t begin with press releases. Find out what remarkable stories your volunteers are talking about that involve firsts and lasts, courage and adversity, fear and hope.

Walk round the office and talk to people. Your volunteers and staff are your story gatherers, they know what is going on, make sure you do too.

Action: Get someone to research some of those human interest stories your volunteers and staff are talking about. Should you publicise them, will those affected give their permission, and how can you protect them from unwanted intrusion? Make this part of your PR plan.

  • Why seniority counts

Journalists want to interview the most senior person in the organisation and that is you. The messages count more if they come from someone at the top because they are more authoritative.

Journalists also like to hold organisations to account, and ultimately the buck stops with you. If there is a “reactive” saga developing it will be you not your staff the media wants to meet and talk to. If you have a “proactive” message and a new strategy to unveil it is also the chief executive or chair who should be seen to be leading the organisation on this.

You are the most important public face of the organisation alongside your chair, patrons and celebrities. Remember how important your role is and how important it is to your organisation that your name and face get to be known.

Action: List how often you have spoken to the media this year. Set yourself a realistic target for interviews and invite some journalists in to meet you.

  • Moving forward

Once you have put in place a media strategy you will need to convince others of its worth. Getting the agreement of your board members is your first step and then you must allow staff and volunteers to buy into it.

Your board members may well have media experience themselves and some charities and voluntary organisations invite practicing journalists onto their boards. Have you thought of doing this? Local and national journalists can certainly be good figureheads for your organisation and they can sign agreements to ensure they keep information confidential.

Think of how your board will react to your calls for more resources to be given to PR and make sure you can list the benefits of doing this. Explain why your current practices no longer fit the bill and why you need to move forward. Don’t worry if you meet with resistance, try, try and try again and eventually you will persuade others.

Action: Make a list of all the positive benefits of good PR and how it can help your organisation to grow. Find out what others think and involve your board members and use their experiences.

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