Public Relations is Not Just Crisis Management
With the recent announcement that UNC-Chapel Hill has hired Joel Curran as its first vice chancellor for communications and public affairs, the university has taken a positive step toward addressing a seemingly endless array of negative publicity in recent years over athletics, academic and fundraising scandals.
As an alumnus, I applaud this long-overdue move. I’m also encouraged by the fact that Curran will report directly to the chancellor. We in the public relations profession have long advocated for access to top leaders and a seat at the table of C Suite executives.
Unfortunately, there is still a perception among some about what this job entails. In fact, I heard a commentator on WCHL radio say that most of what Curran will be doing is crisis management.
The university’s dealings with the NCAA and the media were badly botched, and certainly Mr. Curran will be advising Chancellor Folt and other top executives on how to properly handle media relations surrounding controversies. However, to narrowly define public relations as simply crisis management misses the point.
To see a more complete picture of Curran’s responsibilities, take a look at the press release issued by the university. It states that his duties will involve managing “the overall efforts to help interpret and promote Carolina’s mission with key audiences.” He will oversee a communications team whose functions include media relations, content generation for the university’s website, social media, internal communications, and print and website design.
This holistic approach is in line with the Public Relations Society of America’s (PRSA) definition of public relations: a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics. I would even add that PR not only builds but maintains mutually beneficial relationships.
Crisis management is largely reactive and temporary. Public relations is proactive and ongoing.