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What Martians Can Teach Us About PR

Updated: Sep 7, 2020

I was on a flight back from London and finally had a few hours of leisure. As a working mom, I can’t remember the last time I went to the movies and I decided to watch The Martian instead of reading my usual business literature.


I heard great reviews from colleagues and friends. Sure, the effects were great, and the story was quite entertaining (although, I can never look at potatoes the same way, ever again..). My biggest take away, was the fact that the head of Media Relations and PR for NASA – played by Kristen Wigg, was at the center of the action.

"Great leaders understand the value of communications and public relations. They include this function as part of their leadership team and seek them out as one of their most trusted advisors."

In the movie, she played the role of an advisor and strategic partner to the most senior executives at NASA. This, I thought, is not fiction at all. After all, great leaders understand the value of communications and public relations. They include this function as part of their leadership team and seek them out as one of their most trusted advisors.


Here are five recommendations for how leaders can best utilize their head of communications and public relations:

  1. Offer a seat at the table – Communications professionals are busy with an array of work. From media relations to communications campaigns, they can plan and execute it all. The best value comes from offering a spot as part of the leadership team. This is where they can help anticipate potential PR issues and provide expert advice on planning and launching communications strategies to support business objectives.

  2. Involvement from the beginning – If you watched the movie, you noticed that the head of communications and PR is part of all conversations from the beginning. I often find that the person doing this job is brought in halfway through a project or situation, lessening their strategic value from contributions that are critical in the initial stages of planning. This leads to the perception of communications and PR as a tactical role, where writing press releases and company announcements is all they offer.

  3. Extend invitations – As the leader in a company, the more access the head of communications and PR has to you, the more you will benefit. I say this because it is nearly impossible to write a speech for an executive with whom you have only interacted a few times. The more access you give to meetings, gatherings and events (even if it is just to listen), the better your voice and priorities will be captured.

  4. Balancing Legal Advice – When a company is facing a crisis situation, a leader needs to ensure that Legal and Communications are represented. Both teams have a vested interest in protecting the company’s reputation and brand. And although their approach can differ, having a balanced approach between what is said and how it is said, can be critical in protecting an organization. There are numerous case studies where the wrong balance has led to hard consequences, especially in the court of public opinion. And some brands never bounce back.

  5. Pulse of the Organization – A savvy communications and PR professional has a good pulse as to what is happening internally and in the industry. As you develop a trusting relationship, sharing honest and candid conversations will become the norm. You will find that the advice and counsel you receive is a fresh perspective from the one you would get from your CFO or COO. 

So go ahead, load that baked potato with extra butter and sour cream. And while you take your first bite, think about how the right person as the head of communications and PR for your company can really add value to your executive team.

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