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Public relations in an era of strategic partnerships


The formation and development of strategic partnership in both the private and public sectors is on the rise. In the public sector we are seeing an increased investment now on strategic partnerships. This focus is understandable when you consider that it aligns well strategically with the shift to Outcomes Based Accountability and reduced government budget.

In essence more can be achieved for society and communities as a whole through sharing resources and capabilities across public sector organisations. In the private sector Brexit, a volatile global economic environment, the rise of populism and increasing R&D costs is also driving an increase in strategic partnership formation and development.  Research from PWC’s Global CEO Survey 2017 supports the shift to strategic partnerships globally with 48% of global CEO’s planning to pursue profit growth through strategic partnerships in 2017.

The formation of strategic partnerships in the private sector will often mean less innovation and new product development risk to a business through sharing innovation investment costs and risks collectively.  In this way it can fuel increased growth for SMEs by drawing on the collective organisational capabilities and resources.

It has been my experience that increased profit potential and organisational growth is the primary lens that strategic partnerships are usually assessed through.  The role of Public Relations practitioners in the formation and development of strategic partnerships both in the public and private sectors is limited.

Assessing and viewing strategic partnerships solely or primarily through the lens of increased profit potential and growth is understandable and necessary. However, it cannot and should not be the main consideration in terms of corporate reputation risk management.  This is where I believe Public Relations practitioners can and should add increased value.

Strategic partnerships will impact directly on the reputation of an organisation.  The wrong strategic partnership can damage your reputation, profits and growth. Strategic Partnerships increasingly need to be assessed through the lens of how well organisational cultures, corporate governance, management and leadership styles and core values of partners align.

Public sector leaders and SME Boards and Directors need to consider carefully reputation management and cultural alignment factors in the due diligence screening decision. This is particularly true because there is research that shows the clear reputation management risk from strategic partnerships. As an example in 2013 research by Luc Bardin, Raphaël Bardin, Guillaume Bardin found that 70% of strategic partnerships fail over time and less than 10% live up to expectations (Strategic Partnering – remove chance and deliver consistent success 2013, Authors: Luc Bardin, Raphaël Bardin, Guillaume Bardin).

The challenge for Public Relations

I have long believed that there should be stronger engagement and collaboration between corporate governance and public relations professionals. The two professional disciplines are interconnected. This is because robust corporate governance will by its nature contribute to reducing organisational reputation risks.  This then indirectly contributes to sustainable SME growth and public sector organisational development through social value creation.

The challenge public relations practitioners face in the era of increased collaboration through strategic partnerships, is strengthening our strategic engagement with colleagues in the field of corporate governance, to add collective value in the context of strategic partnerships.

A decline in public trust in organinations (Edelman Barometer Survey January 2017), a rise in citizen activism through digital media and the rise of populism mean organisations today need to become more and more authentic. Being authentic means living out your core values as an organisation. And living out your core values extends far beyond the goal of profit. We now operate in a post profit age. Strategic partnerships should therefore be assessed through the lens of reputation management, core values, CSR and strategic fit not just profit growth.