I found both Sean McCleneghan‘s article on public relations skill sets and Shannon Bowen‘s article on how public relations practitioners attempt to appeal to the dominant coalition within an organization to be very informative in regards to the expectations and hardships that PR professionals experience as they strive to become and remain a part of an organization’s top management team.
McCleneghan’s survey focused on the different skill sets that public relations executives place an emphasis on versus their counselor counterparts. While PR executives found “writing competency” and “critical thinking” to be more important skill sets, counselors ranked “judgment and decision-making skills” higher than writing competency. I believe that part of this discrepancy stems from the difference in power one wields as a PR executive versus a PR counselor.
When one is an executive, her duties and authority is limited by that allotted by the dominant coalition a.k.a. top management. As Bowen’s 2009 study of public relations professionals shows, many PR practitioners complain about these limitations to their ability to practice proper public relations models. PR executives may rely more on their ability to think write effectively due to the fact that they are limited to this function within their organization.
According to Bowen, survey participants expressed relief when their organization was presented with a crisis because “it was what I had been waiting for all this time to get in there and prove what I could do.” Another respondent stated that he “had been waiting for years” to finally get a chance to “acquire the attention and reliance of the CEO and dominant coalition.”
Interestingly enough, Bowen’s respondents placed little faith in long-term credibility building activities through “persistence and maintaining a history of correct analyses over time.” Many were displeased by the lack of progression overtime and some even complained that “it takes ages, really years and years, to earn their [the dominant coalition’s] trust.” Part of the issue was that PR professional have been burned along this route. The same respondent went on to state that “you think you have it, and then you are back out and have to try again, to keep trying” and that there didn’t seem to be any real trust being given to public relations as an organization function.
I recently made my public relations consulting services available and, from what I’ve experienced, I would have to agree with McCleneghan’s findings that counselors place more importance on their ability to make decisions than PR executives. As an independent consultant, small business owners often look to you as the authority on all things public relations. Without the ability to consistently make sound decisions, clients will lose faith in your ability to produce results and are more likely to stop doing business with you—which may be the end of your company.
I would be very interested in hearing the opinions of other experienced practitioners on this matter. Please feel free to share your experiences by leaving a comment below.
What skill sets would you rank the highest for PR professionals?
- McCleneghan, S. J. (2007). “The PR counselor vs. PR executive: what skill sets divide them?” Public Relations Quarterly, 52(4). 15-17.
- Bowen, S. A. (2009). “What communication professionals tell us regarding dominant coalition access and gaining membership.” Journal of Applied Communications Research, 37(4). 419-443.