Staff blog: There’s more to PR than meets the eye

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By Siena Perry, Senior Consultant

There is a sad irony about the sometimes-dubious reputation of public relations.

PR practitioners often fall afoul of one of two characterisations: the champagne swilling ‘sweetie darlings’ a la Absolutely Fabulous, or the immoral corporate mercenaries.

The truth, as always, is wonderfully more complex.

Currently I am spending two months in the Lao PDR, which is, by the United Nations definition, a Least Developed Country. Here, I’m working on the public relations for an agency of an international non-governmental organisation.

Here, communications and public relations take on a very different function, one that reinforces the true core competencies of the field of public relations.

As anyone who has spent time in Asia can tell you, relationships are the key to success. Thus, much of my time here is used identifying, managing and maintaining relationships with key stakeholders such as government staff and donor agencies, assisting stakeholders to reach a consensus about issues, making information relevant to a vast range of target audiences, promoting partnerships, and establishing networks.

To give you a concrete example, I have been involved in the campaign to secure funding for an Agricultural Census.

Agriculture is the most important economic sector in Laos, providing the main source of income for about 80 percent of the labour force and contributing more than 50 percent of GDP. However there is currently no up-to-date, reliable, statistically sound data for the sector, making the development of policy more like a guessing game.

A sustained campaign of professional communication, international and national advocacy, media relations, speeches and events has led to this project receiving funding from two different sources. These sources were convinced of the importance of the project because they were provided with relevant, professionally presented information from multiple, trusted sources (including the media) in a timely manner.

Training of the census coordinators is now underway and the results will be available in September. A strong communication strategy was integral to obtaining a successful funding outcome.

This brief example highlights how transferable and powerful strategic public relations is, and how investing in relationships pays off.

Bottom line: although the field is sometimes misunderstood, stereotyped and pigeonholed, it can add so much value to almost any project. Strategic communication, relationship building and public relations is as relevant in the boardrooms of Brisbane as it is in the rice fields of Laos, and far beyond.