Typically, when we think of public relations professionals, we think of external communication.
A public relations professional’s role is focused primarily on improving communication with stakeholders outside of the organization. Day-to-day responsibilities often include building relationships with reporters, fostering engagement with fans on social media and reaching out to stakeholders with an email newsletter.
In fact, external communication is baked into the definition of public relations. According to the Public Relations Society of America, “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics” — noticeably, not within organizations.
And yet in order to effectively communicate between an organization and its publics, public relations professionals must also master communication within their organizations.
The organizational information that public relations professionals share with various publics is discovered through internal communication. Organizations are simply too large and complex for public relations professionals to keep their pulse on everything that happens without relying on communication with other employees.
As a result, the success of public relations efforts depends greatly on the ability of PR professionals to gather information from within an organization. Specifically, there are three reasons why strong internal communication pathways are critical.
1. Crisis communication must be swift
As the COVID-19 pandemic illustrates, crises strike organizations of all sizes. Public relations professionals need to be ready to communicate changes and updates efficiently when a crisis hits, or they risk losing the relationships they have worked so hard to build.
Thus, when a crisis occurs, public relations professionals need to be aware of what decisions are being made internally and how these decisions will impact different publics. Strong relationships with key decision-makers allow public relations professionals to navigate internal communication channels and respond swiftly.
2. Stories need to be amplified
In addition to speeding up information gathering, internal communication skills help public relations professionals uncover customer or client stories to share in promotional or fundraising materials.
Since public relations professionals are focused on one-to-many external communication rather than one-to-one interactions, they often miss insightful stories that occur in the day-to-day operations of an organization.
In order to learn about these stories, public relations professionals can create opportunities for other employees to share them. Vanessa Chase Lockshin of The Storytelling Nonprofit provides several ideas for gathering stories, including starting a story time at meetings and creating an online story submission form.
3. Effective internal communication can reduce errors
Finally, establishing two-way relationships with other coworkers helps reduce needless errors in communicating information.
Public relations professionals often find themselves writing about subjects that they are not extremely knowledgeable about. In these situations, they must rely on subject matter experts within the organization to relay important information and assist them with fact-checking.
In short, public relations professionals cannot execute their external communication duties effectively without using internal communication to establish rapport and solicit information.
Internal communication is especially important for responding quickly in a crisis, uncovering organizational stories and reducing errors in complex materials. These situations are just the tip of the iceberg, however, and public relations professionals should continually seek to improve their internal communication skills.
About Public Relations. (n.d.). Public Relations Society of America. Retrieved from https://www.prsa.org/about/all-about-pr
Lockshin, V. C. (2019, December 13). 5 Ways to Start a Story Library for Your Non-Profit – The Storytelling Non. Retrieved from https://www.thestorytellingnonprofit.com/blog/5-ways-to-start-a-story-library-for-your-non-profit/