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PR industry plans long term

PUBLIC relations consultancies are often regarded as performing a crisis management role, preparing media releases or co-ordinating launches and functions. Increasingly, however, organisations are recognising the important role of public relations as a long-term strategic management tool that requires a sound understanding of corporate, political, social and media environments.

According to the president of the Public Relations Institute of Australia (WA) and Ward Holt managing director, Marie Louise Sinclair, the face of the public relations industry has changed drastically during the past decade. There is a growing appreciation of PR’s role in developing effective stakeholder relations in business success and in expanding industry horizons.

“There is still a tendency to call in PR people as fire fighters in a crisis, but business leaders now have a far greater appreciation of the value of public relations as a long-term, strategic management tool,” Ms Sinclair said.

In order to stay competitive in WA’s relatively small market, public relations consultancies have had to acquire new skill sets in order to tie together traditional communication methods, such as the media release, with new communication technologies like company websites.

Ms Sinclair also considers staff who have a broad understanding and experience, and have worked within specific industries, as an essential component in today’s public relations industry.

“Consultancies that have developed to meet emerging client needs in the broad field of social accountability find their senior staff requirements have changed as well,” she said. “At Ward Holt, our last two senior appointments have both been people with broad knowledge and experience in related business disciplines.”

Professional Public Relations GM Paul Niardone believes that public relations will play an increasingly important role in the marketing mix as it becomes more specialised. He said the market was polarising into public relations companies that just write media releases and those that provide strategic advice and services to clients.

“There are over 100 registered PR businesses in Perth and most of them are owner operators trying to be jack of all trades and working from home,” Mr Niardone said.

“Being the largest and leading consultancy gives us many advantages. We are not interested in writing one-off press releases. We develop long-term partnerships and provide strategic advice to help clients achieve their objectives.”

Porter Novelli general manager Caroline de Mori claims that a broad client base that is not dependent on one specific industry or sector, and offering a comprehensive range of services is the formula for surviving tough economic times.

In describing the industry as counter cyclical, PPR’s Paul Niardone said that, traditionally, during an economic downturn, above-the-line marketing budgets were cut or relocated to below-the-line activities such as public relations, as public relations was a more targeted and cost-effective communications tool.

During hard times there also was an increased need to keep specific stakeholders informed regarding the organisation’s situation, planned strategies, and actions. Due to this ongoing process of PR support, the industry was able to ride out economic downturns, he said.

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