Public relations professionals often disagree with the decisions taken by the top management of the companies they work for, even if they find it quite difficult and it sometimes costs them their jobs, a new study by researchers at Baylor University and the University of Texas at Austin has shown. The researchers based their findings on 30 in-depth interviews with senior PR professionals who had all held top positions at corporations, nonprofits or government entities.
Although pressured to support the organization they worked for, many PR pros considered themselves an “independent voice” within their employer’s establishment, not “mired by its perspectives or politics,” explained Study author Marlene S. Neill, Ph.D., of Baylor University.
While PR pros prefer to be the voice of dissension over a “Yes man” attitude, many of the respondents had to face “kill the messenger” reactions which made it difficult for them to share criticism with their bosses and to persuade top management to agree with a conflicting perspective. In more serious cases, PR pros admitted to having been demoted or fired for refusing to go along with a company decision they considered unethical. Two of the participants stated they had resigned when their advice was rejected, one of the cases involving a requirement to include false information in a press release.
The study also revealed that senior executives saw their PR departments as mere marketing tools, thus limiting the public relations professionals’ ability to offer meaningful advise and help solve problems or diffuse crises.
The good news is some participants said they were working for organizations who appreciated a PR team’s role of devil’s advocate, in some cases having the courage to disagree with a CEO or other top executive helping them build a good relationship within the company.
PR pros agree that in order to be truly useful, a PR team has to work closely with the company’s legal counsels and key decision makers to be able to properly control and avert negative situations.