5 Reasons Why HR & PR Don’t Get Along

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

Our corporate cousins in Human Resources have many of the same issues that we do. 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 often on all kinds of matters, and recruited me onto a task force on business process optimization. Many of her team sought me out (and I, them), and we forged a strong, positive relationship. KeyCorp’s Diane Coble and Jeff Darner (since moved on) and I enjoyed similar mutual respect and partnering. Even my brief tenure at National City Corporation included positive experiences working with HR.

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

Here are 5 reasons why HR and PR don’t get along.  Next week, 5 ways YOU can build a good relationship with them.

1. HR thinks they’re 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 bonus as a result of larger budgets and spans of control.

3. HR often believes that only information critical to the employee should be communicated to them — and that means comp/benefits, business conduct and training opportunities should be top of the fold in the employee newsletter and front-and-center on the intranet. They believe that they know more about communication than we do (and sometimes they’re right, but that’s another post).

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

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.

Just a reminder — these aren’t hard and fast rules, they’re examples. Your results may vary.  In fact, share your thinking here!  Do these resonate with you? Am I full of it?


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4 Responses to “5 Reasons Why HR & PR Don’t Get Along”

  1. WinstonWolf says:

    Typo in item two. Should be “HR is hungry for control and more control.”

    The amount of influence this function has over employees’ pay and career path is often inappropriate. How many HR departments have supported a great employee’s desire to be a “subject master?” No, they’d prefer that the employee work on “areas of development” and pursue a career that fits HR’s description of advancement.

    HR could be — and should be — a supportive, instructive resource for PR (and all other functions) and its employees. But to rank and file employees, HR is often viewed as the company’s secret police (“We have files! We have information! We have reports! And you’ll never see them…”)

  2. Sean says:

    Winston, thanks for your comment. Many times, the assumption is that H.R. is an employee advocate instead of an employer’s rep. More to follow.

  3. I don’t doubt your example of PR and HR, but in my experience with several companies, I have not seen animosity from the HR department. In fact, it’s been the opposite experience for me. They often want to utilize communication’s services to the extreme. Sure, there have been times when we disagreed, but I wouldn’t say that all comms departments are at odds with HR. I really liked your insight into the shared services functionality of HR and comms. We don’t make money and are often seen as less critical to the overall success of the company. The good news is that shared services personnel can easily move to other companies because we are not tied to an industry.

  4. Sean says:

    Hi CD – thanks for stopping by. I’d never say that “all comms depts are at odds with HR” — no way. I have had too many great experiences to say that. That said, I know of the strains in some organizations, which is why I wrote the post (Ragan’s edit of the posting has nearly 300 clicks in less than two days).

    Stay tuned for part two!

    Much appreciated.