Bill Gates famously once said, “If I was down to my last dollar, I’d spend it on public relations”.
Of course this statement would not carry much weight were Bill Gates not so successful. And if any of us hopefuls have even the slightest desire to acquire half of what Gates has, then perhaps we would do well to take his advice.
It is a complex thing, this animal called business. And while some may argue to the contrary, statistics have consistently shown that many wonderful organisations, most with great products and services, have consistently failed and never to return. Of course some fold at the sword of naivety and bad management, while a lot more, and tragically so, fold for the simple reason of not handling, adequately, that all-important matter of perception.
As an organisation, unless you are dealing with some creature that is anything but human, you will do well to appreciate that your would-be clients or stakeholders are likely to form a perception about you way before they give your product or service a chance. Because, you see, perception works very similarly to a traffic light.
It either gives us that mental green light about you, or throws a straight red (and this has nothing to do with the World Cup) no matter how good or bad you actually are. And unless you invest as much on perception management as you do on other “more important corporate disciplines”, say maybe your finance department, it is safe to deduce that you are firmly on the helm of the Titanic. And, of course, there’ll be no books to balance when the inevitable happens.
And so knowing this, and having been in this game for 23 years, 17 as a PR consultant and spin doctor for many big corporates and politicians, I cringe at the sight of leaders who continuously downplay the importance of public relations in the organisation. I cringe because these are the same people who will call a person in my space, usually in ungodly hours, begging for a quick-fix PR solution to a PR problem that could have been long averted with simple and mature PR.
I have told some of my clients (and vindicated) that good PR not only creates good perceptions and can add to your bottom line, but good PR can make you almost crisis proof. When the public’s perception about you is in the green, and crisis hits, people are not just likely to be sympathetic to you or your flaws, but may go as far as taking your side, even in the most trying of circumstances. Because in their minds you are a good organisation that has hit a snag.
So I can never over-emphasise the importance of a good PR team.
Admittedly and how’s this for an irony, it is the PR people that have created these negative perceptions about their ‘craft’. I say this, and boldly so, firstly out of experience, but also because my organisation has made its biggest profits helping and doing PR work for organisations with highly qualified PR people who are anything, but. And so, money has to be spent on us, consultants.
I have met PR people that deal with the media yet have not the slightest clue how a newsroom works, except for the rantings of their professor (if they are lucky) from back in varsity, or through trial and error through their working life.
I am convinced that PR people’s lack of complete understanding of how this industry is supposed to work has all but created bad PR, for PR. And in turn the organisations they represent have suffered. Sometimes to the tune of millions, believe it or not. Yet equally so, I know PR people whose organisations are so bad they should fold, but the incredible perception management they do seem to carry the folly of the organisation. And I have found out that being a good PR person is not a matter of talent. Or personal conviction and ambition, but rather knowing how to play the game.
The one thing that has distinguished great players from the also-rans has always been the coaching they receive. You see coaching is not schooling per se, as most successful business people will tell you, but more a matter of providing guidance for specific results. A coach is very different to your college tutor. Your tutor introduces you to the industry and how it generally works. Your coach hones in on specifics and almost tailor-makes outcomes-based teaching for your particular goals – both personal and organisational. Your teacher teaches you karate. Your coach makes you a karate champion.
It is easy to be pessimistic and dismiss an idea you have not tested. Yet it is usually that idea you dismiss that is the ticket to the next level of success. And so take it from a return soldier of the PR game that if you are not being coached, you are likely to remain a contender. But never a champion.
If this long thesis did not grab your attention, maybe this video will.
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