Why do PR and marketing lead culture, service, and sustainability initiatives?

While blogging on Scott Berkun’s interview with Grant McCracken, this statement by Scott prompted a comment and some reflection: Corporate PR departments often talk about their “company culture”.

That makes sense on one level: public relations and marketing groups should communicate to the wider world about company culture, sustainability programs, community service initiatives, etc.  However, that statement prompted a question: why are PR departments so often the voice and face of the corporate culture to internal audiences? 

I can get that you’d like experienced and strong communicators to craft and deliver the message.  However, I wonder if executives behind such initiatives realize that when marketing/PR is the face and voice of change, most employees believe (or feel) that it is all for show.  This risk would be particularly high in sectors where the marketing culture would not traditionally be close to the culture of line management.  Perhaps it is a limitation of my experience, but I’ve found that the most effective corporate cultures had messages that were transmitted and reinforced via line management or peers, not professional communicators.

Would any of my PR-savvy readers care to share some tips/examples on mitigating these risks?

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4 Responses

  1. Hello Paul

    “However, I wonder if executives behind such initiatives realize that when marketing/PR is the face and voice of change, most employees believe (or feel) that it is all for show. This risk would be particularly high in sectors where the marketing culture would not traditionally be close to the culture of line management.”

    I’m far from being PR savvy but I’m finding myself assuming the role of PR person for an adopted cause, my first foray being a Facebook group and the second a blog-based brainstorming project . You could say I’m trying to create a social corporation, the group and the blog project are companies and the group members and contributors are, at least potentially, social employees. From my experience of the Facebook group I’m very aware of the fine line between motivating involvement and dissuading it by coming across as a PR job! Yet messages must be delivered and enthusiasm for the cause must be garnered, and if it’s to grow and diversify as I hope it will the “corporation” must have it’s cultural identity.

    “Would any of my PR-savvy readers care to share some tips/examples on mitigating these risks?”

    I may not know what I’m talking about here (it’s ok for you to say so, I’m a big fan of learning curves) and the analogy between my singular amateur project and a corporate business might be a little far fetched, but …
    I know what I want the project’s corporate culture to be like, I also know that cultural identity is a two way thing – you belong to a culture, but you also own it. A living culture is a collaborative affair, by definition it’s the creation of it’s members. The more engaged the members are in shaping the culture and making it their own the less the need for messengers, and PR, becomes. Social interaction takes over ( thinking about it, I realise that’s the whole point of “social” media ) freeing up the communication experts to get the message out to the world.
    That’s my theory, I’ve yet to prove it, but I’ve made a start :) Do corporations out there in the hard cash economy use social media models for internal PR?

  2. Hi Paul,

    Some businesses have people/departments who actually specialise in communicating with internal audiences. A lot of them can be found in the IABC (International Association for Business Communicators.)

    Frankly, if the job is being left to PR people, it’s usually not a good solution. If you come up through the ranks of PR you do tend to have a skillset/knowledge base focussed on external audiences. There are PR people talented enough to turn their hand to internal matters, but it’s not something automatically successful.

    As for the great “corporate media vs. cascade through peers and line manager” debate, I’d say the research suggests there needs to be a balance. It is true that people trust and accept messages more when they come from peers and line managers. However, it’s also true that those groups of people can be “blocking filters” who do not transmit certain things. A lot depends on what you’re trying to communicate and why.

  3. […] Indy on Why do PR and marketing lead c…ceris62 on Why do PR and marketing lead […]

  4. Maybe the skepticism around PR departments communicating about culture comes less from who is communicating it and more from concern about the validity of their statements. Culture is an intangible but many tools do evaluate or assess culture. In my work, we ask internal and external stakeholders assess intangibles like culture. If the PR department (or anyone else talking about culture) has a valid source for their statements, they will be more credible.

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