Public relations pros should review lawyers’ and accountants’ decisions

According to Paul Holmes from New York-based The Holmes Report, public relations professionals should be involved in any business decisions potentially impacting the reputation of organizations. While it is common practice to see lawyers reviewing press releases, PR advisors should, on their part, review legal contracts prepared by lawyers, and financial structures set up by accountants.

This refreshing perspective was shared by Paul Holmes at a recent conference organized by the Luc Beauregard Center of Excellence in Montreal. The PR veteran quoted the example of Starbucks in the UK, which experienced a huge crisis in 2012 provoked by a “brilliant” fiscal structure planned by its accountants that reduced considerably the taxes the company had to pay. Not only were its senior executives called to testify before British Members of Parliament to explain their failure to pay their “fair share of taxes,” but Starbucks was subject to a visible consumer boycott as a result.

I couldn’t agree more with Paul Holmes when he says that PR should be a C-suite function. If not, who is responsible for managing stakeholder relationships (and reputation)?

Here are other takeaways from his remarks:

  1. Public relations is the management of the relationship of an organization with all its publics. For Holmes, public relations acts, whereas communications tells.
  2. While PR is growing in importance and considered a more essential function within businesses today, PR professionals must get more business-savvy.
  3. It is imperative for CEOs to be in-tune, knowledgeable and have an understanding of public relations and of the impact of decisions on stakeholders and reputation.
  4. Social media didn’t change anything for “good” public relations professionals, since we were already working under principles such as authenticity, transparency and openness. The difference now is that bad decisions are known quicker and can have more impact on the business. For organizations, social media has changed the price of not doing the things right.
  5. PR functions should be integrated to eliminate fragmentation of stakeholder relationships (ex. internal communications, which sometimes reports to HR, should fall under the communications function)
  6. As public relations professionals, we must be courageous: we must be able to say what we think (ex. say “don’t do that to a CEO”); empathy: listen carefully to the publics.  We also need to be convincing to show our impact.
  7. When public relations is done properly, it improves the world in which we live in because it aligns society’s interests with the interest of the businesses.

Unfortunately, the room was essentially composed of PR professionals. I would have hoped to see more CEOs, lawyers and accountants.



Marie-Josée Gagnon About the author
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