Reputation & Responsibility: PR’s Confident Future

It amazes me the amount of copy that is written about the identity crisis that the PR industry is currently experiencing. In a recent post the excellent Stephen Waddington claimed the PR industry lacks confidence. I agree with him. It’s also hard to get away from comments about the PR & Communications industry’s need to think and act like MBA’s and improve their knowledge of business.

Well as someone who has just completed an MBA and works in the PR industry I can reassure you that PR professionals should be confident. You skills and practices have never been in more demand. So let me share some lessons that the MBA journey has taught me about the confident future that awaits our industry if we play our cards right.

Hanging out for a number of years with a smart bunch of people has been a real pleasure. My fellow alumni currently lead and will continue to drive growth in various different organization during their careers but one thing I noticed over our MBA journey was their fascination and lack of knowledge about the business of communication.

From my first case study session at Henley Business school which was not focused on a strategic or financial models but the reputational fallout from BP’s Deep Water Horizon crisis, to a senior executive (fellow alumni) from the pharmaceutical industry admitting to me that communications was really where he and his organisation needed to improve their skill set, I have constantly found much to my surprise that it is my communications skill set that is in high demand rather than the financial or strategic skills set of some of my fellow students.

Anyway here are five lessons from the life and learning’s of an MBA student which if deployed correctly by todays communications professionals should give rise to a confident and blossoming industry.

Analysis based on data

The first lesson I learnt was the SCQA (Situation, Complication, Question, Answer) model in critical thinking. In order to fully assess any situation and understand the complication that arises from this data needs to the foundation of any exercise. Data and insights are often cited as a weakness in the PR profession but with all the tools available to todays data driven communicator it is also its biggest opportunity. The best communicators I know already base all their efforts on a base of data. For those that don’t you will become irrelevant, for those that do keep improving but remember success in communications will still be about combining art with science.

Understanding value drivers

This is all about the big question linking PR to business objectives. Really understanding what drives the value of your organization from both a shareholder and stakeholder perspective is key. PR’s are usually good at the later perspective but often suck at the first one. Sorry guys this does involve basic financial literacy. Getting a decent knowledge of how balance sheets, income statements, cashflow’s as well as corporate valuation and financing models is crucial if you want to get any respect in the Boardroom. Stop whining about getting a seat at the top table and educate yourself in the language and practices of business. Creative, writing and relationship skills will only get you so far.

Emergent strategy

Every MBA is taught many different strategic models and frameworks. The two most popular being Porter’s Deliberate Strategy and Mintzberg’s Emergent Strategy. It todays world of constant change Minzberg wins every time. Emergent strategy is the view that strategy emerges over time as intentions collide with and accommodate a changing reality. It implies that an organization is constantly learning what works in practice. Considering the state of the PR industry (both in-house and agency), never has a strategic approach been more relevant or useful.

Transformational leadership

For both in-house and agency leaders there are two types of style that are and will be applied. Transactional management where the focus of the style is minimizing risk, maintaining and improving the status-quo through improved structure, process and plans. Transformational leadership on the other hand is about producing and leading strategic change. A transformational leader achieves business transformation by taking risks, setting compelling visions and motivates others to follow by inspiring and energizing around basic human needs. All organisations need both leadership styles but right now the PR industry needs more transformational leaders than transactional managers.

Reputation & responsibility

Perhaps the PR industries biggest opportunity for a confident future lays in what was a key module of the MBA program, Reputation & Responsibility. Purely its presence on an MBA program alongside strategy, finance, people, processes etc shows me that communications already has a place at the top table. Truly understanding and being able to demonstrate the value of the reputation economy to their organization is critical to any communications leaders success. In addition in the area of corporate responsibility having an effect on what a company does, not just what it says or what others say about it is critical to a confident future for the industry. I am positive that where PR and communications is seen as an organizational asset this is exactly what is happening.

So with those lessons learnt I do believe a confident future awaits the industry but we will need to be masters of change and for that there is only one model to follow. 1. Establish a sense of urgency, 2. Create a guiding coalition, 3. Develop a change vision, 4. Communicate the vision, 5. Empower action and remove obstacles, 6. Generate short-term wins, 7. Build on the change, 8. Embed change into culture.

So thank you Mr Kotter, we now have a framework to follow but my question is: Are there enough of us establishing a sense of urgency and developing a change vision?


  1. Jono – pivotal last section: ‘reputation and responsibility’. An enlightened approach by Henley Business School to its syllabus. Many MBA programmes have departed from management & leadership towards focus on financial modelling. It’s the holistic view of the organisation which C21 needs to drive success.

    40 years ago business tangible:non tangible asset split was 80:20. It’s now swapped around. 80% of a firm’s assets are non tangible. They’re tied up in copyright & patents for sure but also in the firm’s reputation, its brands, its relationships and its culture. I.E. the home turf of PR.

    What more fundamental role within a firm can there be than preserving and growing the 80%? That’s where PR’s confidence has to come from.

    I echo what you say about PRs needing to take on new skills. We need to develop a more T-shaped skill set. And, if we’re to wake organisations up to the reality that sustainable long-term growth means looking beyond short term profit, then we need to understand how each business function pulls together. And, when we say we’re strategic, we need to be strategic – not using tactics and passing them off as strategies.

  2. I really enjoyed this article and found myself nodding in agreement throughout.

    I particularly like the phrase ‘confident future for the industry’

    Thank you for sharing, this resonated with me.


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