PR and HR should be working together

The skills of public relations experts could work wonders for employer brand, retention and even uptake of training, says Louise Findlay-Wilson

It’s easy to see why public relations is on the agendas of enlightened HR teams. Through building the employer brand, it can play a fundamental role in attracting talent to an organisation and can motivate employees to not just join but stay with a company and perform. Beyond this, I’ve seen PR deliver critical HR objectives – such as ‘steadying the ship’ when a business is going through commercially turbulent times or changing the culture within an organisation so its people are better prepared to face a different, more competitive environment.  

Yet all too often PR sits within the marketing function, solely focused on helping the organisation attract more business; HR’s objectives are rarely shared with the marketing team, let alone addressed as part of its remit. 

Such a disconnect between HR and PR can have considerable ramifications. For instance, there’s little doubt an employer’s reputation impacts on its ability to attract top talent; indeed, according to the CareerBuilder survey 2018, 55 per cent of jobseekers abandon applications after reading negative reviews about a potential employer online. Yet because the company’s PR function is not focused on helping with recruitment, only 45 per cent of employers ever monitor or address those reviews. This is madness, especially when you consider how much time and money a typical organisation will have spent getting talent to the application stage.  

Similarly, if you think about LinkedIn or Instagram, both are brilliant at supporting the employer brand. LinkedIn is ideal for showcasing an organisation’s expertise, latest thinking and senior talent, whilst Instagram can convey its look, feel and personality.   Yet in so many businesses these channels are ‘owned’ by the communications or marketing teams, with no input from HR. I’m not advocating that HR should take charge of the channels, I just suggest that an organisation’s HR needs should be added to the list of objectives PR teams are tasked with delivering against.

Companies that adopt this approach can reap considerable strategic benefits in ways you might not imagine, for example by changing negative perceptions when it comes to training. Staff can be reluctant to attend or request training, believing it to be a sign of weakness – particularly in industries that strive on the notion of ‘natural talent’. However, it is critical that employees keep pace with the latest developments and best practice if an organisation is to thrive.

In this instance, a mix of internal communications, external media relations, case studies with senior talent, plus cool training events and industry thought leaders, can be used to shift attitudes to training. 

This is just one example of an HR problem with a PR solution. PR has also been used to dispel myths that might otherwise inhibit a company. For instance, in our study of ‘the family business brand’ we found that family-owned companies which play on their family credentials face significant recruitment challenges, with almost two-thirds of people feeling the top jobs in such organisations will be given to the family members, and 36 per cent feeling things won’t be fair between family and non-family members of staff.  

That’s why, if you look at some of the most successful family brands, you will see them deploying carefully crafted PR campaigns which counter such misconceptions. These often harness current employees, getting them to act as brand ambassadors – perhaps using case studies, charity initiatives, award schemes, events or social campaigns.  Such initiatives of course support the employer brand, which is vital to HR. However, they also help build the company’s reputation with potential customers, which is a wider marketing objective.  

Organisations need to leverage this wonderful symbiosis more, by ensuring their communications and HR teams talk to each other and share their issues and priorities.  The functions are natural bedfellows – don’t force them to sleep in separate rooms.

Louise Findlay-Wilson is managing director of Energy PR