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Emily Hawkins-Longley

Dazed Media

Head of People

Read more about Emily Hawkins-Longley

HR and PR: a match made in LinkedIn heaven?

HR is no longer behind the scenes in organisations – thanks to social media, we’re taking centre stage.

I have been interested in the link between PR and HR since attending a seminar some years ago that discussed whether PR teams should sit within the HR department. I thought this was a fairly unlikely pairing, but in recent years and certainly since the pandemic hit us, many HR/people teams have found their policies and the company practices under public scrutiny or have been asked to speak about and promote the practices within their organisation.

Is there a need for a PR type skill set within the HR department?

When processes go public

My first experiences of working closely with a PR department came when working for businesses that had a significant public profile. In most companies, you would worry about things ending in tribunal but when a company image is at stake, the worry is more about what would happen if an employee went to the papers.

I have seen references to processes I am involved in on the cover of the evening newspapers. This was something that I remember feeling very unprepared for. I thought working in HR would mean that you are in the background, invisibly sorting things out. “My job is to ensure that you can all do your jobs”, I used to say. The HR training and studying I had completed was very much focused on employment law, strategy and process. I had not covered what happens if something goes public.

Employees don’t want to read about the existence of a company policy for the first time when scrolling through LinkedIn.

Those businesses that have a public image would usually have a robust PR team, whom I would work closely with whenever something of note happened. During this time, I learnt a lot from my PR colleagues regarding how to word correspondence in a way that will not only help employees feel better about the situation, but also that you wouldn’t mind being quoted in a public space.

This sort of thing didn’t happen often, most of the time the HR team would be working on people strategy, operational tasks and the day-to-day issues within a business, not thinking about the public opinion of these things. A few years ago, the thought of talking about a company policy document publicly would seem like a very odd thing to do.

Times have changed, however, and it isn’t just those tricky scenarios that HR practitioners have to consider from a public relations point of view.

Caring and sharing

During the first lockdown, many HR teams actively promoted their wellbeing resources within their companies. I’ve heard of all sorts of imaginative emails with pictures and hyperlinks doing the rounds. Those lucky enough to have creative teams would have asked for help creating aesthetically pleasing documents and encouraged the senior leadership teams to get on board with any initiatives taking place. These are all skills that you would usually see within the PR team.

Recently I have also seen a surge of businesses actively promoting their people related policies in a very public way on LinkedIn. I’m sure many would have seen Channel 4 promoting their pregnancy loss policy and making it public for all to see and use as a template.

With HR teams being thrown into the spotlight over the past year, employees and business leaders have been forced to recognise the significance of people practices.

I myself have promoted policies such as domestic abuse support, calling for all businesses to adopt a similar policy to support employees. As an HR director, putting yourself out there can feel strange – aren’t we supposed to be the supporting act to the main event?

The response to raising awareness and putting yourself out there for a cause is always positive, if a little uncomfortable. Anything that raises awareness of such topics is surely a good thing, however I would urge companies to ensure that such initiatives are authentic and already embedded in an organisation before they are promoted externally.

In my experience, employees don’t want to read about the existence of a company policy for the first time when scrolling through LinkedIn. Employees are looking for businesses to be ethical, diverse and inclusive but also genuine.

The importance of authenticity

I have also recognised some pressure for HR/people teams to keep on top of what other companies are doing, with a view to staying ahead of competitors who are seemingly coming up with new ideas and talking openly about them. This is certainly felt in the advertising industry where (possibly due to the nature of the business) companies are very vocal about the positive people policies they have in place.

There also seems to be an increase in awards and accreditations available for companies to achieve and promote publicly. These awards normally involve a presentation event, an opportunity for the HR lead to have their picture taken, creating some LinkedIn worthy content.

Ultimately, businesses will be judged by those who are working within it. A strong public profile will certainly attract talent and attention to a brand, but if an employee finds the public persona is not authentic, I suspect their time with that company will be short lived.

Is there a need for PR skills within the HR department? I would say that there is a strong case to say yes.

With HR teams being thrown into the spotlight over the past year, employees and business leaders have been forced to recognise the significance of people practices, employees have had a chance to reflect on all aspects of their lives and how their employer can support them.

I expect we will start to see public speaking, external networking and advanced communications skills firmly placed on the job specs of senior HR/people roles. We are still the supporting act but occasionally, we will be required to take centre stage.

Interested in this topic? Read Why HR & Marketing need to buddy up to attract top talent.

Author Profile Picture
Emily Hawkins-Longley

Head of People

Read more from Emily Hawkins-Longley

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