Here's a couple of takes on the role PR plays in an organization, from two perspectives.
The first is from Jon Harmon, VP of communications at Navistar. Jon's take is that PR's stature as a corporate strategist is earned, and the PR team forms the corporation's approach to strategic communication. "Public relations professionals bring value not only through effective and purposeful internal and external communications, but by earning and keeping a “seat at the table” in bringing the voice of reputation to the business operations’ decision-making process. ...To function well in this role, PR professionals need solid business acumen and understanding of the inner workings of the company and its industry. ...Simply put, when PR is functioning at its highest level, it makes each of the other staff functions more effective."
Similarly, Mark Phelan of The Detroit Free Press writes about the role of communications in the new-era Chrysler. Mark's view differs slightly in that his premise indicates a successful corporation must have a pre-disposition to PR, and invite strategic communication into the discussion. "Communications must have a seat at the grownups' table, with direct access to Chrysler's bosses as the company develops and executes its turnaround strategy. 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."
It's a chicken-and-egg scenario. Do companies value PR because it has brought them success, or has PR brought them success because they value it? Do PR execs have a seat at the table because they've proven themselves, or were they able to prove themselves because they had access to vital information because of that seat at the table?
The most successful companies we work with are those that recognize PR as a strategic tool, rather than a tactic. They understand that they will either have an impact on their reputation, or their reputation, left unchecked, will surely have an uncontrollable impact on the organization.