Jay Cooney (L) & Gary Grates
Jay Cooney (L) & Gary Grates

If you are paying attention to the subtleties of business, this could be the most compelling year for public relations leaders as we’re convinced the fickle economic trends provide immense upside for our profession.

If we had to pick one word characterizing the state of our industry at the start of the year it would be “maintain.” But four months later, this year is setting up as the year of “survival.” As we’re about to explain, that’s good news for communications professionals albeit with one caveat: to survive, you are going to have to change. If your PR playbook is from 2018, you are not going to make it.

2023 is the moment of truth in our profession.

Given these tumultuous times, there is no better opportunity for PR professionals to stand up and lead. At the core of every situation is a human response.

Relationships. Trust. Belief. Purpose. Confidence. Leadership.

PR/Communications is about bridging gaps. Building relationships. Personal interaction. Business acumen. Balancing arguments. It’s about new ideas. Solutions. Compromise. Now, more than ever, you are your own value proposition.

What it’s not is spin. Promotion. Events. Campaigns. Programs. Messages. Video. Social Media. Stunts. Big events.

Thinking strategically in such an imperfect world must be the norm. Assessing the cause vs chasing the symptom. Uncovering choice. Comprehending motive. Connecting. All of it is a formula for success of organizations and brands globally. And you.

Looking ahead, what can we do to secure our place at the senior-most decision-making body of the business? This includes those who are already there…how do you stay there?

  • Hone Your Point-of-View

The most valuable trait we have is our POV. Not our skills or tactical prowess. It’s how we think. Process information. See the big picture. Take time to read. Write. Share.

  • Speak with Insight

Data is ubiquitous. Use it. Generate it. But remember it’s only the insight that matters. Think of it as a peanut with the shell the data and the nut the insight.

  • Agility Breeds Athleticism

Being flexible given the unrelenting change happening provides choice. Flexibility opens opportunities. It promotes collaboration. And it’ll increase productivity.

  • Listen and Absorb

Pay attention to your stakeholders – inside and outside the company. What are they saying? What are they doing? What are they thinking? What is driving the action?

  • Leverage Risk Smartly

No amount of business can be conducted today without some risk. Size it up and discern the result. Where does it lead you?

  • Don’t Sell. Let People Discover

Illustrate your point. Demonstrate your argument. No one wants to be told or sold.

As the CEO of a Fortune 500 global organization once told us – “You’re on the Leadership Team not because you represent Communications but because it’s how you think!” Those words have never left us and guide our efforts every day.

The world's not getting any simpler or easier. PR/Communications is too critical to be marginalized or discarded. It’s truly in our hands. The bottom-line is to earn the right to provide counsel, advice, and recommendations requires repeated demonstrated value, and you don’t do that by Maintaining. Communications is a critical strategic element of any business model because its very essence deals with people.


Jay Cooney is the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Harsco Corp., a global market-leading environmental services company. In this role, Jay is responsible for both strategy and execution of Harsco’s internal and external communications, marketing, and branding initiatives. He joined Harsco in 2017 from PepsiCo where he was Vice President, Corporate Communications, and he has held multiple global leadership roles at Fortune 50 companies. Jay holds a JD from the University of Arizona College of Law and an MS in Broadcast Journalism from Northwestern University.

Gary F. Grates is Principal and Managing Director of GConsulting Group, a global consulting and advisory firm in the areas of business transformation/change, corporate communications, and corporate relevance. He was formally principal of Real Chemistry, a health innovation firm, president/global managing director of Edelman Change and Employee Engagement, and vice president/north america, General Motors Corporation. He is an adjunct professor at the Syracuse University Newhouse School, member of the Plank Center, Page, and IPR.