It's time to take PR seriously

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The collapse of Carillion left 43,000 jobs at risk and thousands of suppliers and subcontractors owed money. Here Helen Rudd examines why proactive rather than reactive PR is more efficient in a crisis.


As the news spread back in January of Carillion’s £1.3 billion debt and £600 million pensions deficit, anger raged over the poor channels of communication which have left many questions unanswered.

The company’s downfall spells a public relations disaster for the construction industry which suffers from a deep-seated cultural resistance to change.

But it also demonstrates how many businesses are taking a reactive rather than proactive approach to PR.

When disaster strikes, it seems obvious to enlist the help of experts to prevent the aftermath of the crisis damaging reputations irreparably.

But actually, by then it’s often too late.

Those who ride a storm and come out with sails intact are ones who have communications specialists at the very heart of their operation – in good times as well as bad.

Great PR is about more than generating media coverage. Its main concern is the reputational bigger picture of an organisation so including it in your business plan should be as obvious as having an accountant to crunch numbers and a lawyer to safeguard your assets.

By having PR as a constant in the boardroom, an organisation can be prepared for any sudden developments or unexpected events.

Not only can they provide communication plans that are directly linked to the objectives of the business but they are equipped with the warts-and-all level of knowledge about the company's inner workings and development plans.

If a crisis strikes, they have the full picture and can immediately set to work on any necessary damage limitation.

For far too long, the PR industry has failed to explain just how valuable we can be.

Part of the problem is that some of what we do, perhaps the most valuable things, cannot be accurately measured.

This doesn’t make our work any less important and it doesn’t mean PR doesn’t impact the bottom line. It absolutely does.

What we can do is provide content, coverage, connections and, most importantly, credibility at the right time, helping a business weave communications into every major decision.

It’s too late for Carillion. But other businesses can learn from its mistakes.


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