Corporate Reputation and the Interdependent Relationship between PR and Journalism

By Paul Griffin

If profitable growth is the driver for business - trust is the petrol in the engine. Without a licence to operate - both regulatory and civic - then it stalls.  One important lesson history has taught us is to never underestimate the power of brand recognition, loyalty and stakeholder buy-in: media included.  

The public relations industry has grown significantly since its establishment in the early 1900s as a communication tool for both the US and UK governments. From a back-office ‘add-on’, it has matured into a vital strategic asset - core to a firm’s business model and its success.  

Since 2000, the world of journalism has itself undergone fundamental change - driven primarily by the internet and fast-changing demands from readers and advertisers. The interdependent relationship between communications professionals and journalists has grown stronger over the past decade, not weaker. The rise of ‘citizen’ and ‘braided’ journalism, and the ability for consumers to share and rate material [via blogging and micro-blogging], has created a perfect storm for the industry. In one move, the internet has:

•    Redirected advertising spend - leaving traditional media with less income
•    Empowered consumers to be their own reporters
•    Hastened the need to break news even more rapidly

In many regards, the media has itself become disintermediated. The communications industry has been fully aware of the changes affecting the media world and has adapted. 

Some industry sceptics incorrectly contend that PR has become too powerful; too involved in the overall direction of a company and too much of a barrier between the media and the ‘story’. 

The relationship 

The truth is that journalists have long since valued the role that public relations professionals have supplied. Many journalists are exposed to a broad range of sentiment, and are free to review, discard or utilise what they like. Nobody is forcing them to write anything. The majority of journalists would admit that they are fairly, if not largely, reliant on the communications industry to help them find and source interesting stories and meet industry contacts. Because of diminishing resources and the increasing need for speed, reporters are actually ever more reliant on the efficient channel of information between an organisation and the media. In this sense, PR has become powerful, though far from being in control.

It is the job of PR to advise, package and market a company’s messaging to stakeholders via the media, but have no power in making them write verbatim. There are very few journalists, if any, who can be intimidated to write a biased, or indeed inaccurate, story on the request of a PR, and very few PRs who would seek to achieve this.

PRs have never and would never engage in misrepresenting or falsely reporting on a company or its financials. It simply isn't in the interest of the business or indeed the profession. When a company issues its quarterly earnings to the market, for instance, the role of the communications advisor is to help facilitate the supply of positive, and most importantly, accurate information to stakeholders. 

The 360 degree approach

The fact remains, that in the new media age, there’s a new model in play. Corporates now sit within a much more complex interplay with society. The line between the inside of a company and the outside world is blurred. Organisations now find themselves within a 360 degree environment, having to manage information on a whole series of fronts, with employees blogging and tweeting to the world outside; shareholder activists calling boards to account and environmental and consumer associations being speedy and efficient at campaigning. 

The new model is much more dynamic and complex, and as a result it is incumbent on the organisation not only to manage the bottom line or their social responsibility projects but also to manage the way they present themselves to stakeholders. In fact it would be irresponsible for businesses not to take seriously how their reputation is managed. Few would argue that the way an organisation is perceived has a direct impact on share price, its ability to attract and retain top employees and its role in the local community. The more complicated and savvy the market gets, so too does the advice businesses are demanding.

As a result, the communications industry has had to re-think how best to leverage and mitigate these channels and tools, while continuing to provide counsel on how best each business can maintain a constructive dialogue with its shareholders. 

    

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