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PR director of the future: The most delicate of balancing acts

Posted by Debby Penton on 25th January 2016

Christine Brown, Director of Regional Communications at AMD, has recently been reviewing how press are supported across the globe. The goal is to ensure maximum impact while delicately balancing the needs of the corporation alongside those of the journalist. This discussion sparked a conversation about PR re-gaining control to under-pin its own destiny.

PR was once all about getting the right message ‘out-there’, rather than the more varied function it has now become. The current perception leads to confusion in where it falls in the marketing mix and what value it brings to the overall business. The good PR team (whether in house our agency) has to be more than just a helpful communicator with great contacts to help an influencer get the story they want. PR needs to deliver the best story for the company or organisation it represents. To do this effectively it has to potentially adopt a much stronger approach.

Chris cited Katie Cotton, Apple’s former communications director as an example – she was well known for being unapologetic about being there to help the company, sometimes taking rather blunt and forthright actions with correspondents for the benefit of the company. “Plenty of people will tell you that PR has always been about telling the company story but many of those will accept it’s become more about presenting an acceptable, human face to deal with the good news, the bad news and the right reactions in times of crisis.”

Taking the Cotton example further, her approach was to produce one fixed simple statement for every merger acquisition or leadership change, etc. and stick to it no matter what the question. “There would be no deviation, no side-discussions and every attempt would be made to resist talking and engaging for no real additional value to the story in focus.”

Balancing the needs of the corporation and journalist?  

“In effect PR has broadened in scope dramatically over and above just servicing press needs. Today it’s about using the full bandwidth of the workforce to engage with the market it serves, with commentary, opinion and debate that actually matters to all stakeholders.”

“Within my team’s workload, we are pretty balanced between global (corporate) outreach support and local market or regional matters – however in the future PR may need to question how much such corporate material needs actively pushing. Can or should much of it just happen with automated updates for that media which still needs to cover news driven by legal and regulatory needs? I think it will – with the real work going in to an understanding of local/regional requirements to gain customer interest, maintain relationships and support the corporate messages relevant to the markets it serves.”

The discussion continued to review the PR agency’s future role, which we agreed is to structure, coach and monitor that engagement. “To be truly effective the PR relationship needs to be properly embedded and a trusted advisor at every level of the business. The focus today is also not only about engaging with regional markets but also knowing the appropriate media, bloggers and other selected correspondents – essentially the right avenues – that make sense for disseminating news.”

Does distribution of knowledge matter?

“Knowledge is power to a point but knowledge sharing within the business is what allows you to operate as a more powerful team and to engage most effectively. It enables business to truly talk as one voice while still maintaining some personality. Agencies will need to guide and counsel in this respect, which they don’t do often enough at the moment. Getting knowledge flowing freely helps on a lot of different levels too – it certainly benefits the new breed of work-from-anywhere community managers AMD works with. It allows them to operate effectively with the authority of the business. And for more senior colleagues it eliminates the impression that PR is some sort of puppet-master and when a commentator writes something unflattering we no longer get “surely you can just make a call and fix that.”

What’s the next big thing?

“PR IS the next big thing, constant and tailored communication is everything. Our job is to identify the resources, knowledge and energy from within the business and focus it directly at the people that need to see it. Public Relations is a very active and exciting enterprise – when you get it right – and many companies are getting it right to the benefit of both the market and the company itself.”

For more information about Wildfire’s PR director of the future campaign, please visit

Debby Penton

Motivated, competitive and highly experienced, Debby drives excellence across the agency and leads by example, going the extra mile to create stand-out campaigns and a dynamic agency culture. As CEO, Debby champions a new breed of PR that meets the evolving communication needs of today’s tech companies.