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What HR Can Learn from PR -- and How the Two Can Work Together

October 25, 2001
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At many companies, the public relations department's job of getting the corporatemessage out is considered a very different function from internal communicationwith employees, which is part of HR's job. As a result, communications expertssay, there sometimes is little coordination between PR and HR, and the two departmentsmay end up sending messages that are different in substance as well as style.

    In a catastrophic event, that split can become all the more acute. Corporatemanagement may concentrate on crafting the external message, while neglectingthe internal one. "They'll say, Well, HR can take care of that," saysWilliam Furlow, a former Los Angeles Times editor who nowworks as a crisis-communications specialist in Tustin, California.

    He says that's a serious mistake. He recommends that companies give equal attentionto their internal and external statements in a crisis, and says that PR andHR need to work together. "For one thing, companies have an obligationto keep their employees informed-it's just the right thing to do." Beyondthat, Furlow says, employees play a crucial role in getting the company's messageout and reinforcing it with the larger audience. "They're the ones whoare out in the community, the ones who are meeting with customers," hesays. "They're going to have to talk to people who ask them about the company'ssituation, and they need good information so they can explain it."

    Furlow says that HR and PR both bring something valuable to the table. TheHR staff has the best feel for how to get the message across inside thecompany-whetherto use meetings or e-mail or posters, or some combination of different media.Unlike PR, "they're the ones who deal with people across all the departments,"Furlow adds. "The sales force may see the world differently than, say,the production staff. HR presumably knows all that."

    HR, in turn, can benefit from PR professionals' skill at identifying the relevantinformation and presenting it in a persuasive manner. Instead of a bland, laconicannouncement or e-mail memo, PR can help craft an eloquent internal messagewith the same sort of rhetorical tools that make external messages powerful-"anecdotes,examples, metaphors that underscore the point you're trying to make." Thatsaid, Furlow cautions that the most crucial tool is the truth. "When aclient starts talking to me about spin," he says, "I say, that's notwhat we do, because that's an indication to people that you don't have confidencein your story, that you have to make up some BS to make yourself look good.What works is being honest, on the outside and the inside."

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