Why Public Relations Practitioners Need to Be Organizational Educators

To educate

In the old days, it was simple for us communicators. Do some media training for just a few of the top spokespeople in the organization and ensure everyone is on message. Then work on coming up with a story, pitch it in the press and receive a positive clip. Finally, send it to a few people and pat yourself on the back.

As we know, that’s all changed. The digital communications revolution has dramatically impacted the way we reach audiences and handle crises. In light of this, there has been a great deal of chatter about how public relations professionals need to innovate and transform in the way they do their jobs. In this new landscape, I believe we must embrace the role of being an educator.

There have been numerous discussions about who owns social media. Stuart Bruce, a communications consultant in the UK, makes a good case for why nobody owns social media – everyone throughout the organization needs to be involved in the process. I agree, because as Bruce points out, we want the entire organization to be able to deal with customer complaints and serve as positive ambassadors for our brands. But I believe it is the public relations professional’s responsibility to mobilize individuals and groups so that they can effectively and competently do this task on their own. So now, instead of just training a handful of top spokespeople, we need to work with the entire organization.

The reality is that social media is continuing to change. Jenny Rooney, editor of the Forbes CMO section, said the following on my podcast: “I think social media is here to stay but it’s going to continue to morph and I think we don’t necessarily know what it’s going to morph into.” Many other commentators and experts have similar opinions. As educators, our first role is to adopt a never stop learning mindset so we can be on top of these changes. Consequently, we become the communications go-to source within our organizations.

We as communicators must practice what we preach by demonstrating expertise with digital communications and then mobilizing others.

As educators with the task of developing brand ambassadors, here are some other things we need to do:

  1. Demonstrate proficiency of different tools
    We need to establish our own credibility vis-à-vis our own stakeholders. Nobody benefits much from a foreign language teacher who can’t speak the language at hand. Ditto for us as communicators trying to help our colleagues become conversant in digital communications.
  2. Get buy-in from the top
    A professor needs to convince the academic dean of the need for a particular course. So too do communicators need to ensure buy-in from top leadership so that groups and individuals in the organization see the priority of digital communications.
  3. Provide one-to-one tutoring and group workshops
    This means being able to read both individual and group dynamics to ensure “students” (our colleagues) are grasping the concepts. It also means having the skills to speak in public and deliver presentations.
  4. Evaluate and follow-up
    Most all of us had to endure hours studying in preparation for a big exam. While usually not a pleasant experience, we also understand that some form of evaluation is necessary to ensure that we’ve grasped the learning concepts presented. Likewise, we need to provide follow-up and constructive feedback as we mobilize our ambassadors.
  5. Market your offerings
    We’ve probably all wanted to get in a particular class taught by a specific professor. Usually, it was because this professor had a good reputation amongst other students. We need to develop such a reputation ourselves within our organizations. We also need to find ways to promote our offerings through internal communications tactics and one-to-one conversations.

Perhaps all these areas aren’t a natural fit for public relations professionals. These are skills that can be learned with effort and practice. However, not developing some level of competency in these areas is problematic – these skills are among the prerequisite requirements to effectively do public relations in our digital communications age.