The four Ps of public relations leadership

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The chair of the Global Alliance introduces the Madrid Momentum (Learning to Lead) and details four Ps that constitute the cornerstones of PR leadership

By Anne Gregory, PhD, FCIPR

It was not that long ago (September 2014) that the World Public Relations Forum was held in Madrid where the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management, together with DIRCOM, the Spanish Association of Communication Directors, hosted more than 800 professionals from 65 countries to examine the theme of Communication with Conscience.

Distance from an event lends a certain perspective, as we all know from our various war stories on crisis communication. It allows thinking to mature as consciously and unconsciously we reflect and internalise what has happened. For me a highlight was the work done before and during the forum on leadership and this, in turn, led to the Madrid Momentum discussed in Learning to Lead, which will seek to capture the richness of the leadership roles that public relations professionals fulfil around the world.

At last, public relations comes out from under the shadow of marketing and media relations—and it is not just me who is saying it. No other than WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell—arguably the world’s most successful marketing services entrepreneur—said so, too, in the October UK edition of PR Week. He agrees, “PR now has the opportunity to do something about this.”

And it was thinking about marketing that made me reflect on just about the first thing I learned about that communication discipline: the four Ps.

The four Ps of public relations leadership

Then I realised, the four Ps were exactly what I’ve been rattling on about as my thinking on leadership in public relations has developed. Of course, these four Ps are different ones (from marketing) and operate at a higher level, which in turn has a more profound impact, but they do describe our leadership role.

Here are the four P cornerstones where my thinking sits right now.

Purpose

Our professional codes of ethics say that ultimately our role is to serve society and sometimes that is seen as being in conflict with the interests of the organisations that we work for day to day.

Not so.

Ultimately, our role is to help build societies that work. We achieve this in our daily work by helping our organisations to make good decisions. Decisions informed by listening to people, by appreciating the context in which they live their lives, by understanding what is important to them, by ensuring our organisations are part of the solution to the challenges that face them, not the cause of their problems.

So, we need to help our organisations clarify their purpose, and a part of this is to also identify what are our organisations’ obligations to society. This is at the heart of organisational strategy and governance because as a result of living that purpose and fulfilling their obligations we will secure a “licence to operate” for those who pay our wages. 

Principles

Having determined purpose, next we have to decide the strategy on how to implement it.

This involves having rules that govern behaviour and decision-making and against which we will be judged. In common parlance, these are called values. It’s the distance between declared and lived values that form the legitimacy gap and it is this space that the rapier of social media (and other media and forums) constantly probes and holds to account.

Lived values are the surest protection against attack.

The combination of purpose and principles are at the heart of organisational character and these are most viscerally lived out by organisational leaders.

This is why leaders need public relations professionals constantly at their side, playing the role of the old court jester: Holding truth up to power, saying those things that others do not dare to, and generally telling it straight as to how other people see their words and actions.

It also means that public relations professionals have to operate everywhere within the organisation, looking at structures, processes, physical premises, ways of working—everything—because these are where principles are really lived and this is where the organisation or brand narrative is really written, not by the keyboard of a brand journalist.

People

It’s strange, but there continues to be far too many people who still don’t get it. Organisations meet their objectives through people: People who work for the organisation and people who work with and through it.

This means that relationships are crucial.

Research by Ocean Tomo has shown consistently that intangible assets are worth approximately 80 per cent of the value of an organisation.

Intangible assets include people, relationships, reputation…our territory.

That is how large our contribution is. Incidentally, it completely defeats me why we are drawn into being measured against the remaining 20 per cent (i.e., the worth of physical and financial assets), which is what ROI measures, instead of insisting on being measured against the 80 per cent.

Process

This describes the new way of working that has to characterise any successful organisation. The days and ways of command-and-control and of CEOs trying to impose their will on the world are done.

Cooperation, collaboration and co-creation are the only way forward. Moreover, relationship building, mutual respect, a shared values base and common objectives, are all derived through communication.

In fact, without communication or public relations, nothing can be achieved. It is more than being simply an enabler; it actually constitutes the stuff of modern organisational life.

Learning to lead…and a call to action

Increasingly this is what has become clear to me: The time for public relations leadership is now and this leadership can—and should—be demonstrated at any level within an organisation.

Even the most junior-ranking PR professionals are being called on to interpret the world outside and to develop the communication capabilities and competence of senior staff.

It truly is a turning point for our profession and some have already grasped it. There are real leaders in our profession who are not only transforming their organisations, but are transforming the communities around them.

And so I end my four Ps post with a call to action to my global colleagues:

If you believe you are a public relations leader, send a video clip of no more than 20 seconds to info@globalalliancepr.org with answers to these two questions:

1. What was the moment you realised you were a leader?

2. What can public relations contribute to your society?

Record your clips in English and/or your mother tongue and the Global Alliance will categorise them into themes, geographies, challenges and cultures, with the intent to produce a living archive, freely available to all about leadership, from which we can learn and draw inspiration over the coming months and years.

The four Ps used to bring to mind the domain of marketing, but the world has moved on—the four Ps of public relations are where it’s at these days.

***

Update: Anne Gregory wrote a complementary post on the Global Alliance’s website (as well as for the monthly enewsletter), exploring the first P (Principles) further: Doing good by doing our job

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Dr. Anne Gregory, FCIPR, is chair of the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management (GA) and professor of corporate communication at the University of Huddersfield. She leads specialist research and consultancy programmes for public and private sector clients and is an advisor to the UK Government, having undertaken reviews of government departments and three attachments.

She was president of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) in 2004, leading it to Chartered status, and was awarded the Sir Stephen Tallents Medal in 2009 for her outstanding contributions to the profession.

Dr. Gregory has written and edited 20 books, including the globally available CIPR series; authored 30 book chapters and 50 refereed journal articles and conference papers. She is editor-in-chief of the Journal of Communication Management.

You can find her on Twitter or writing for the Global Alliance’s website or newsletter. Anne Gregory’s first direct participation on PR Conversations was taking the PRoust Questionnaire (the first non-principal to accept the challenge).

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31 COMMENTS

    • I very much like where this is leading – pun intended!

      The four P’s are based on foundation, co-created documents facilitated by the GA. In many ways the Stockholm Accords and the Melbourne Mandate laid the case for the modern communicative organisation and went into great detail to spell out the role and mandate of public relations.

      I would like us to refine even more the purpose of public relations as a strategic way to differentiate ourselves as a profession. I think if we came up with a “crisper” way of spelling out our purpose it would help better define public relations. For example if we said “The social purpose of public relations is to build understanding and bring harmony in society” we could exclude anyone who is a publicist and masquerading as a public relations professional.

      I applaud these efforts to bring a clear frame to leadership in public relations.

      I already recorded my video in Madrid and look forward to hearing and listening to more voices.

      • Thank you Jean. You are right, there is some building on the Stockholm Accords and Melbourne Mandate, I was deeply involved and led aspects of both initiatives as you know. There is a difference though, both of these initiatives focused on the organisation and the role of public relations professionals within them.

        My thinking has moved beyond focusing just on the organisation to considering the wider duty of our profession. The purpose and duty of a profession, and this is borne out in the literature, is its fiduciary obligation to society. Our problem has been two fold: first we have not thought of ourselves as a profession and have not acted as one. We have acted largely as a functional part of business, there to serve its interests, not the interests of society. Here we are very different from lawyers or doctors. Second, we have not been regarded as a profession by others, so our attempts to claim that territory have been largely disregarded by those who legitimize professions, notably the media and the establishment.

        So my call is that we start acting as a profession and that means focusing on our contribution and obligations to society. I’m not sure our purpose is to bring harmony…sometimes we need to rage against injustice and inequality, but we do have an obligation to build community. Sometimes that will be as peacemaker, sometimes that will be as thorn in the side.

        • Anne – thank you so much for this post on PR Conversations (and my apology for not participating in the discussion sooner – life/work of a busy woman and all that!)

          What I wanted to pick up on are a couple of things relating to the concepts of leaders and profession. First, I have generally felt a frustration with arguments claiming PR to be a profession largely due to using the word as a status symbol without considering any meaning of the concept. So I like your connection to fiduciary obligation to society, which implies that responsibility comes with claiming to be a profession.

          I’m also keen to see the field of public relations recognise that the concept of a profession is changing in the traditional fields, and I believe this is an area where PR can lead as a modern, flexible occupation that connects to the challenges facing organisations, publics and the wider society in an ever complex world. That is, we have the opportunity to be showing how a profession isn’t about status and restrictive practice based on established ways of working, but about creativity, continuous learning and innovation applied by those with expertise in a field.

          This is what modern medicine, teaching, even law requires in its responsible practices and how these traditional professions are shifting from hierarchical, controlled and fixed ways to act more dynamically with recognition that tomorrow’s societal problems are unlikely to be addressed by yesterday’s solutions.

          Which brings me to my second point on leadership. I am concerned that this is being used increasingly as a synonym for management as the latest idealistic position that PR practitioners are seeking to call home. We’ve claimed CSR, reputation management, strategic management, social media and so on as ‘our’ areas of expertise, only to find these are contested territories or places where PR has done little more than arrange a few cushions and soft furnishings by concentrating only on communications not engaging more deeply in what these concepts truly mean for practitioners, organisations and society. Why is leadership going to be any different?

          I like what you seem to be saying epitomises a leader – although I’ve always thought of PR more as the lone nut as per Derek Sivers’ wonderful TED talk on how to start a movement. But how do we ensure that the concepts of leadership and profession are not just adopted by PR practitioners as a comfort blanket that makes us feel warm and comfortable? Don’t we need to toughen up a bit as the grit to create the oyster?

          • Heather, thank you for this thoughtful and valuable reflection on my post and so glad we have found common cause here.

            On being a profession, yes indeed, the first obligation is to society. Status should not be a goal, but it comes through gaining respect and the support of the society it serves. It certainly should not be about restrictive practice. In fact a sensible way forwards given the complexities you talk about, it to equip others in our organisations to be competent in communicaton, just as we are all now encouraged to be competent at budgetting and HR, domains that used to be exclusive to Finance and ‘Personnel’.

            Communication and the basic practices of good public relations I believe to be a core competence of any modern organisation. That is not to say we lose our expert position because we will be the authority on this core competence because of our training and education…just as FDs are the ultimate authorities on Finance. This is not about restrictive practice, but about sharing good practice.

            On leadership: I understand your concerns here and agree leadeship should not be a synonym for management. Leaders can be found at any level within and organisation and they are those that show vision and galvanise action, normally using communication as the catalyst. Communication changes things and so do leaders. You cannot have one without the other. Management is largely about process – planning, implementing, monitoring, which incidentally we can be good at too, but not all leaders are good managers and not all managers are good leaders.

    • Thanks for the comments Anne. I think we are making strides to be seen as a profession with our work at the Global Alliance to establish global standards in ethics, curriculum, measurement and credentials. If we can achieve those and find a mechanism to have all professional bodies adopt these, we will have taken a giant step. The Accords, Mandate and Momentum will provide all the connecting narrative for our profession.

      • Jean I again agree to an extent. I don’t think we have ALL the connecting narrative here, but we do have some of the building blocks. We need to continue to think, challenge ourselves and move forwards.

    • Thank you so much Joe. I sincerely believe if your purpose and principles are genuine and act as a compass (I refuse to use the ‘authentic’ word!) and if you treat people like partners not commodities then you won’t go far wrong.

      Of course some people want to oppose you rather than partner, but even so, if their purpose and principles are right they deserve respect.

    • Yes, very practical. Thanks Anne – the perfect resource for my introduction at the PRINZ senior practitioners’ event in Wellington NZ on Thursday

  1. Anne, as much as I love the idea of video clips, I wonder if some might be turned off that it’s limited to that format–either s/he doesn’t have the required equipment OR the person doesn’t like seeing him or herself on film.

    What about if you allowed “audio” (only) clips, accompanied by a still photo? Many websites/blogs have audio submission software built into the site for commenting purposes (in particular, podcast sites).

    Of course I think the 2-minute maximum should continue to be the rule; just more flexibility on the format.

    Thank you for writing this wonderful post for PR Conversations–I hope the outcome is more “call to action” international submissions for the Global Alliance’s resources area.

    • Hi Judy, good thought thank you. I’ll check the technicals on this and let PR Conversations know.

      You’ll be glad to know we are getting international submissions for the Madrid Momentum and I’ll be sure to report back on progress. And of course we’ll make this resource freely available to all.

  2. I agree strongly with the value of intangibles. I recently did a job interview and mentioned something that rarely gets brought up: people like doing business with people they actually like. Simple things like humor, prompt response and respect go a very long way to establish positive relationships. Just because it’s work doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the people and the process. The other thing is sticking to principles: you cannot go wrong taking the high road. All the best people are there too!

  3. I think this is such a hugely important discussion. I recently attended a course about leadership led by Prof Gregory. So much of what I learned is still resonating. As a profession we lack the confidence and recognition ofother professions like lawyers and accountants. Within the PR profession we need to work hard to develop our own conviction and confidence in the contribution we make, and we need to be able to describe why developing relationships and reputation and acting with conscience based on the four Ps are so important both to the long term future of PR and our organisations.

    • Thank you Jenny it was great to have you there…..it’s people like you who make people like me think. you are at the sharp end every day and it is my privilege to just try to put some framework around it. I hate it when PR people say our job is easy really No it’s not and we should take all the bragging rights of any other profession when we do a good job.

  4. I was asked to post my comment from LinkedIn here. Your article was shared on it:

    I like this. This simplifies, but states the goals of PR in an easy to remember mnemonic series.

    Having said that, this is so close to the 4 Ps of marketing. We’re PR and should try come up with our own unique series. I actually think you can keep it similar, but put the PR touch to it. I’d call it the 2P2R system:

    – Purpose
    – Principles
    – Relationships
    – Routine

    I feel that relationships encompasses more than just people. PR is also b2b, b2c, government, private, public, media, and more. Routine is just a synonym for process.

    I think then you have PR in the system, but also encompassing what Anne Gregory said in this post.

    I’m typing this from my phone, so I hope I was able to articulate my idea appropriately.

    • I like what you say Derby and thank you, we are on the same page here.

      When I thought of the 4Ps I was just musing on how much traction they had got over the years. Marketing loves stealing our clothes….it’s re-inventing itself and talks about the various ‘markets’ it is concerned with including marketing to employees to communities etc.., but the mindset of marketing and public relations is entirely different.

      So in a bit of reverse clothes stealing I was seeking to point out the difference. The main thing is that we agree on what the important focus should be and if we can only get that across we’ll have made big strides.

      • Thank you for the kind words and response, Anne.

        I completely agree with that you are saying. I think that with the blurring of communications going on today, PR needs to do some of reverse clothes stealing, as you said. After all, we’re centrally concerned with building and maintaining relationships and not selling for monetary values even though the relationships we build can certainly help with that in some cases.

        I think you did a great job in pointing out the differences.

        On another note, I am glad I was exposed to this blog from LinkedIn. I’m a PR student at Loyola University Chicago and I’m always looking for more information from PR pros. I’ll be bookmarking for future reading.

  5. Hello Anne,

    I liked your discussion very much and the comments that have followed, most of which have supported the key ideas you put forward. I especially like your acronym which one hopes will become ubiquitous as a reminder of what public relations (I prefer Communication Management) is really about.

    The biggest challenge is the notion you put forward of operating across the whole organisation, looking at structures, processes, physical premises, ways of working and so on – there exist many barrriers to this idea if the form of existing expections and contemporary organisational culture. Yes, the profession is all about communication and in my view, “public relations” will remain a technique as much as “marketing”, unless the profession takes on the mantle of communication professionals seriously in the way you describe. This has been my experience as a consultant: communication consultant i had access across the company in ways that would not be possible as a “public relations consultant”.

    Had a giggle at your reference to “the keyboard of a brand journalist” – a synonym for a marketing person?

    • Hello Gary

      Thank you very much for this. So pleased my thinking has resonance with yours and, more importantly, it stacks up against what is/should be happening in the practice.

      We do have a problem don’t we with what we are called. I think public relations actually describes well what we do….we build relationships on behalf of our organisations with publics, very often in public and for the public and by doing that well and in the public interest, we make a contribution to society. However, the name has been become tarnished and hence the plethora of alternative monikas. One thing is for sure, if the integity of those working under these new labels is not of the highest order, they will soon become tarnished too.

      One of the reasons why public relations has become tarnished a tarnished profession I’m sure is because a number of years ago we had any number of journalists moving into the profession who are keen to get out ‘the story’ and who brought with them their ‘news angles’ which don’t entirely square with other people’s views of the truth. I thought until recently we were beginning to move beyond that to a position where we were employing less journalists and more people, such as graduates, who actually had the public relations mindset from the start. Unfortunately we are seeing a new flood of journalists into the profession as the opportiunities in the traditional media shrinks at the same time as our profession’s current obsession with story-telling and brand narrative is rising. Not that these things are bad in themselves, but I see every opportunity for re-shaping the truth and spin narrative here. Do tell me I’m wrong!

  6. I agree completely Anne. However, I think People should be first on this list. After all as you mentioned “relationships are crucial”. In my mind people are always the first part of the public relations equation.

    • Thank you Geneva. My thinking was that we start with purpose then see how (principles) and through whom (people) and what (processes) we achieve it. But I can’t argue with you…at the end of the day purpose, principles and processes are all realised through people.

    • Thank you Judy. I’d be really interested to find out if other people agree with and/or can help me with extending the train of thought here

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