HR Administration

Six Reasons Why You Are More of a PR Manager Than an HR Manager

By Kris Dunn

Oct. 14, 2010

You’ve said it before as you’ve contemplated a tough move on the people front within your company: “What will this look like to our employees and customers if we take this action?” Or, you may ask, “What will this look like to the same groups if we don’t take action?”

Like the Spike Lee film, you always want to do the right thing as a human respurces pro. However, it’s a tough world, and you have to think about how any people move (or lack of a move depending on the situation) is going to be perceived.

Face the facts: Part of the job of good HR is good PR. Want proof from the big leagues?

When Hewlett-Packard Co. CEO Mark Hurd resigned, one of the outcomes that came out in the after-the-fact discovery was that Washington-based public relations firm APCO Worldwide Inc. worked with the HP board every step of the way as they moved toward the decision to separate Hurd from the company.

According to Fortune magazine, it was the PR strategists at APCO who helped the HP board decide how to handle harassment charges against Hurd. One of the tools was PR influence at its best: APCO presented a mock newspaper article illustrating the potential damage to HP’s reputation if the board failed to take action swiftly and decisively.

In short, PR people played a vital role in making an HR decision. Shocked? You shouldn’t be.

APCO has worked with high-profile clients like UPS Inc. and Pfizer Inc. The same APCO specialists who advised HP on people issues advised Merck & Co. on its Vioxx lawsuits, WorldCom on its bankruptcy restructuring, and Ford Motor Co. when Explorer SUVs with Firestone tires were blamed for crashes.

Consultants from PR shops such as APCO tell clients to “think like journalists” while presenting mock stories or dummy TV reports to show how the press might treat their crisis.

Some of you will reject that notion on first sight. “We don’t manage by approval polls,” you say. I get it. But you do. At times, you’re a PR person who does HR and talent management as a hobby.

Need more proof? Here are six ways you’ve been a PR expert in the last week:

• You’ve assessed the risk of terming an underperformer without taking a single step in your progressive discipline process. What would the PR person ask? The same thing you’re asking. “What’s it going to look like down the road? Are we likely to get sued? Are our team members going to be influenced by the fact the underperforming team member never got a formal warning?” It’s up to you not only to figure out what to do in balancing the needs of the business vs. the liability, but also to figure out how it’s going to play on the street.

You’ve thought about internal candidates who will be interested in a new open position but aren’t ready. You’re thinking about what to tell them. You’re wondering if it’s better from a PR perspective to put them through an interview process in which they have no chance of succeeding or if it’s better to not post the position at all, plug in the favorite and take the backlash. If your final decision differs from that of the hiring manager, you’re crafting your talking points related to why your approach is the best.

You’ve received feedback on the way your CEO is perceived in one of your remote locations. You’re assessing the credibility of the views and wondering if you should present the data to the CEO while wondering if the messenger figuratively will be killed. You know your message has to be right to avoid that. You’re also evaluating whether you’ll hurt innocent team members in that location by sharing the information with the CEO, since your lead person is likely to be down on anyone from that location for a long time.

You just got the application for “Best Places to Work.” You know your company offers much to employees, but you also know it’s not a perfect place. You’re wondering about the positive and negative impacts of chasing the “Best Places” designation. Is it better to have the award regardless of the perception by some internally that you chased the award for PR benefit?

You looked at your LinkedIn profile and think it could use some spice to enhance your recruiting effectiveness. You’re thinking about what you will write to make candidates want to talk to you and position your company as an employer of choice.

You’re changing your medical insurance options, premiums and coverage levels again. Change happens, but this is the fourth time you’ve gone back to the well to reduce coverage, ask for more of an employee’s paycheck and say, “It’s not us; it’s the cost structure of the medical industry.” How do you share the story in a fresh and unique way?

It’s also your task to deliver negative news yet attempt to focus the perspective that team members have it better with you than they could get at the firm across the street.

So you think you’re not a PR person? Some would say you’re more PR than HR.

I say roll with it. If you’ve been in the game for a while now, chances are you’re a pretty good PR pro. And, spin-master skills are valuable elsewhere if the career in HR doesn’t work out.

Workforce Management Online, October 2010Register Now!

Kris Dunn, the chief human resources officer at Kinetix, is a Workforce contributing editor.

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