I was appalled last week to find out that Chrysler LLC, one of the Big 3 automakers, has shifted its public relations department from reporting to the CEO to now reporting to human resources. This amounts to nothing less than a slap in the face to Chrysler's PR people, and, dare I say, to the profession in general. Communications must have a seat a the grownups' table, with direct access to Chrysler's bosses...Somebody in communications must be able to walk into the CEO's office and say, "There's a crisis. Here's what we have to do," and the boss must trust that person enough to listen.
As noted in "Public Relations Practices: Managerial Case Studies and Problem," "although everyone in the organization affects the organizations relationships with varioius publics, establishing public relations policies, goals, and activities is a managerial function. Public relations staffers are part of managment" (emphasis added).
While I'm sure the argument could be made that a PR department reporting to HR doesn't really change the work they do, I have to say that unless we are close to the C-Suite we really can't make much of a difference in the way the organization builds realtionships with publics.
Mark Phelan, a writer for the The Detroit Free Press, wrote a great article on the value of communications in an organization. I love the following quote from the article:
Communications must have a seat a the grownups' table, with direct access to Chrysler's bosses...Somebody in communications must be able to walk into the CEO's office and say, "There's a crisis. Here's what we have to do," and the boss must trust that person enough to listen.
He also went on to say:
An effective communications team can steer management away from bad decisions and build long-term plans to help the company succeed.
I couldn't have said it better myself, and I love the fact that this defense of PR as a management function is coming from a journalist, not a PR person.
Edward Lapham of Automotive News also wrote about the importance of PR and it's relationship to managment in an article published on Dec. 11.
It's all about trust, which is important to the those of us in the news business who gather, process and distribute information. And it ought to be important to our readers and viewers.
Lapham also expressed his disappointment that Chrsyler's PR arm is now reporting to HR and pointed out that GM (my employer I'm proud to say!) is the last of the Big 3 to still have a "direct PR-to-CEO line on the org chart." He goes on to laud the praises of Tony DeLorenzo of GM "who half a century ago built and perfected the communication system at GM that became the blue-chip standard for corporate America."
Now I could go on about how much praise Lapham and Phelan give GM for our PR efforts -- which is really awesome and I recommend everyone read the two articles -- but that's not what this post is about. I simply want to stress the importance of keeping PR as a managerial function. In closing, let me illustrate this point by sharing a story that Phelan related in his article:
John Mueller, a retired GM communications executive, worked closely with chairman Rick Wagoner when Wagoner ran GM's North American operations. One day, he suggested Wagoner do an interview with a journalist from a leading newspaper. Wagoner said that his schedule was full.
Mueller picked up the phone and called Wagoner's assistant. "Tell him I'll be right up," he said. As Mueller stepped into Wagoner's office, the future leader of the world's largest automaker smiled.
"If you think it's important, I'll do it," he said. "Don't you ever quit challenging me when you believe you're right."