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Management Functions and Roles

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Organizations usually have several management functions to help them operate at their maximum capacity:
research and development
human resources

Each of these functions is focused on its own contribution to the success of the organization.

Public relations’ unique function is to help the organization develop and maintain relationships with all of its key publics and stakeholders by effectively communicating with these groups.

Communication is key in maintaining a satisfactory, long-term, trusting relationship with publics and stakeholders.

Public relations provides the greatest value to an organization when it is used strategically.

In an effective organization, all the major functions are linked together by a common set of strategies that tie in to an overall vision of the future and an underlying set of values.

Perhaps a computer company has as its vision:

“To become the low cost provider of computing power to the developing world.”

From this vision, senior management develops a set of strategies that address areas like sourcing, the manufacturing footprint, marketing, design, human resource development, and product distribution.

When all the elements are in sync, the company grows in a steady, profitable manner.

Communication Strategy
An important component of this set of strategies is a communication strategy.

It’s critical that all employees in the organization understand that strategy and their role in executing it.

Many business failures are ultimately attributable to the confusion caused by poor communication.

How many times have you received poor customer service from an employee in a restaurant or retail
In all likelihood, the organization that employed this worker intended for him or her to deliver good service to you.
But somewhere along the line the communication flow broke down.

Perhaps the employee’s direct supervisor or the store manager was not an effective communicator.

Whatever the cause, the end result is a dissatisfied customer and diminished loyalty to the relationship.

In addition to reaching employees, a successful organization must also communicate effectively with its:

For each key public, a set of messages must be developed as well as a plan to reach the public in the most efficient way.

If the company is targeting young people with its message, a high-impact article in the Wall Street Journal is going to completely miss the mark for this strategic public.

If instead the public is high net-worth investors, a clever YouTube video may also not be the right answer.

Although public relations has a unique and important function within organizations, it is often practiced differently depending on the role the top communicator plays within the organization

In general, public relations professionals can be: communication managers
who organize and integrate communication activities

communication technicians
who primarily write and construct messages.

Research in this area led to the identification of four specific roles
1. Communication technicians
2. The expert prescriber
3. The communication facilitator
4. The problem-solving facilitator

Communication technicians
Most practitioners begin their careers as communication technicians.

This role requires executing strategies with the communication tactics of:
1 news releases
2 employee newsletters
3 position papers
4 media placements
5 Web site content
6 speeches
7 blogs
8 social media messaging

Practitioners in this role are usually not involved in defining problems and developing solutions, but base their tactics on the technical skill of writing.

The expert prescriber
The expert prescriber is similar to the role a doctor performs with a patient:

He or she is an authority on a particular industry, problem, or type of public relations and is given the primary responsibility to handle this function as a consultant or with little input or participation by other senior management.

The communication facilitator
The communication facilitator is a boundary spanner who listens to and brokers information between the organization and its key publics.

According to Cutlip, Center, and Broom, the goal of this role is “to provide both management and publics the information they need for making decisions of mutual interest.”[1]

The problem-solving facilitator
The problem-solving facilitator collaborates with other managers to define and solve problems.

This role requires that the professional is a part of the dominant coalition of the organization and has access to other senior managers.

The problem solving facilitator helps other managers think through organizational problems using a public relations perspective.

Research on these four roles found that the communication technician role was distinct from the other three roles and that the latter three roles were highly correlated. [2]

In other words, an expert prescriber was also likely to fulfil the role of the communication facilitator and the problem-solving facilitator.

To resolve the lack of mutual exclusiveness in the latter three roles, they were combined into one role: communication manager.

The dichotomy between the communication technician and the communication manager more accurately explained the responsibilities of public relations practitioners within organizations.

Research indicates that practitioners in a predominantly technician role spend the majority of their time writing, producing, and placing communication messages. [3]

Typically, those in this role are creative and talented with language and images.

Their capacity to create and produce messages with powerful imagery and evocative language is very important to the execution of public relations tactics.

Management Role
Technicians rarely have a seat at the management table and do not have a voice in the strategy of the organization.

Once the strategy is decided, the technician is brought in to execute the deliverables (or tactics) in the strategy.

The communication manager is involved in the strategic thinking of an organization and must be able to conduct research and measurement and share data that informs better decisions for managing relationships with key publics.

The communications manager thinks strategically, which means he or she will be focused on the efforts of the organization that contribute to the mutually beneficial relationships that help an organization achieve its bottom-line goals.

These efforts are not limited to communication strategies, but include:
monitoring an organization’s external environment
scanning for issues that might impact the organization
helping an organization adapt to the
needs of its stakeholders

A study on excellence in the practice of public relations found that one of the major predictors of excellence was whether the role of the top public relations executive was a manager role or a technician role. [4]

Those in the management role were much more likely to have a positive impact on the organization’s public relations practice.

In order for corporate communication to function strategically, the executive in charge of the function must have a place at the decision-making table.

[1] Cutlip, S., Center, A., & Broom, G. (2006). Effective Public Relations (9th ed.). Upper Saddle, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
[2] Dozier, D. A., & Broom, G. M. (1995). Evolution of the manager role in public relations
practice. Journal of Public Relations Research, 7, 3–26.
[3] Broom, G. M., & Dozier, D. M. (1986). Advancement for public relations role models. Public Relations Review, 12, 37–56.
[4] Grunig, J. E. (Ed.). (1992). Excellence in public relations and communication management. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.