5 reasons why HR and PR don’t get along

The relationship can be cordial, but generally, their structural and tactical realities breed contempt.

The relationship can be cordial, but generally, their structural and tactical realities breed contempt

Ask any corporate communicator whom they want to report to and they’ll say, “the CEO!” Now ask whom they’d never want to report to. They’ll say, “HR.” Why is that?

Our corporate cousins in Human Resources share many of the same issues as us. They want to be seen as strategic resources, not mere tactical cogs in the wheel. They struggle to be taken seriously outside of their functional silos. They fight for budget and resources with some difficulty, because they “don’t drive sales,” or “don’t understand the business.” By these lights, we should be strong partners—the shared pain of the back-office services would seem to be a logical impetus for a good relationship.

My own experience demonstrates that possibility. Goodyear’s (now retired) Kathy Geier was a trusted member of then-CEO Bob Keegan’s cabinet. She reached out to me on all kinds of matters, and she recruited me to join a task force on business process optimization. Even my brief tenure at National City Corp. included positive experiences working with HR.

In other organizations, jealousy, turf wars, even outright stiff-necked opposition are the order of the day. Why?

Here are five reasons why HR and PR don’t get along.

1. HR thinks it’s smarter than PR. There’s a stronger academic body of knowledge in HR, a business school connection missing from most all PR programs, which reside in journalism. They think their college experience was more demanding and quantitative than ours.

2. HR is hungry for budget and control. They want more than just the functional duties of compensation, personnel, etc. This is key to their strategic aspirations; the “support services” model often puts an HR person in charge of all the support functions, elevating them to higher pay and bonuses as a result of larger budgets and spans of control.

3. HR often believes that only information critical to employees should be communicated to them—and that means compensation/benefits, business conduct and training opportunities should be above the fold in the employee newsletter and intranet. They believe that they know more about communication than we do. (Sometimes they’re right, but that’s another article.)

4. HR provides training in many fields, so it believes it knows how to better train managers to be communicators.

5. HR likes checklists. Communicating something is an output to be checked off, not a process with a closed loop. They prefer push to pull, wanting to declare that a communication has been sent and therefore is complete. This is especially fraught when discussing how to measure the effectiveness of communication activity.

These aren’t hard and fast rules; they’re examples. Your results may vary. Do these resonate with you? Am I full of it?

Sean Williams is CEO of Communication AMMO.


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