Back from research leave

This Canada Day marked my return from a year’s research leave. It has been a good year- I moved into a new home, got involved in the federal election, made a bunch of great new friends, and wrote most of a new book on social media in Canada. I also became pescetarian and mindfully started on the path to fitness.

I am looking forward to coming back to McMaster as director of the McMaster-Syracuse Master of Communications Management program for a three-year term, until 2019. I love teaching and being part of the university community. I love the rhythm and cadence of university life and the excitement that students feel at the prospect of learning and growing. I love research and discovery – both from the personal perspective of gaining a new understanding of the world, but also because  research and the enlightenment it brings help to transform our communities for the better.

The MCM is a wonderful community of practitioners who learn from one another. I count our faculty among the learners as well, because when twenty very bright, leading communicators from across Canada get together in a room to discuss and debate the theories and practices of management, strategy, marketing, and communications, even the top experts become facilitators. What a joy for all involved.

If you have been thinking about an MBA, you should consider the MCM. We offer the course courses of the MBA in a format that works with your schedule and busy life. It really is an “MBA for creative people.”

The fact that the MCM is offered to you by McMaster University in partnership with the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, opens a whole world of experience for you in the United States!

If you’re interested in the MCM, do send me a note and we can chat about the program and your application to join the 2016-17 cohort, which starts in October.

We have extended our application deadline to August 15, 2016.

 

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Strategic PR and the value chain, pt 5: building relationships in social media

In yesterday’s post, I discussed how public relations became more strategic, as it evolved into a two-way symmetrical model, focused on building relationships between organizations and their publics. Today, I will  discuss how social media has changed the landscape and evolved PR strategy from a two-way symmetrical model to a two-way dialogical model.

Social media has changed public relations by changing the way information flows.

The two-way symmetrical model was based on the gatekeeping model privileged by the structure of most mass communication organizations: well-paid and highly trained experts create content that is then sent through well-defined channels to subscribers. The gatekeepers are the editors, publishers, etc. who hold the final say on whether something is released into the channel. Strategic PR in the two-way symmetrical model involved understanding the dynamics of the mass communications channels (audiences, internal editorial structures, etc.) and forging relationships with the right experts to get the message out. Controlling and the shaping the message were key. At the heart of this is a linear communication model:

Content producer —> editor —> channel —> receiver

Feedback is limited to structured forums such as letters to the editor, op-ed pieces, etc.

Social media has shattered this model by introducing the concept of user-generated content. It also introduced instant feedback into the structure. That made the PR conversation more dialogical and interpersonal, rather than structured and linear. In a dialogical, interpersonal model feedback is constant, like in a conversation.

This means that the organizational relationships that a PR pro has to manage are being communicated in a way that more closely resembles how individuals communicate and build relationships – interactively and with multiple streams of continuous information at the same time (i.e. in interpersonal communication, you pay quite a bit of attention to language, non-verbal, context, etc.).

This means that to be strategic, PR pros now have to think of their organizations as individuals – people who are forging relationships with individual members of priority publics. Managing those relationships for the mutual benefit of the organization and the individuals with whom it has relationships is how PR adds value now.  This means that it has organization-wide influence: marketing, internal communications, HR, financial and investor communications, etc.

For PR pros, this means understanding how business works and developing a set of professional languages, models and metrics that make and demonstrate the case for the strategic value of public relations to the core business development objectives. This is at the heart of what we teach in the McMaster-Syracuse MCM program.

PR’s strategic importance is in knowing how to make organizations personal and interpersonal, in an organized and consistent fashion.

 

Strategic PR and the value chain, pt 4

Yesterday, I mentioned a piece published in the McMaster Daily News featuring my colleague @TerryFlynn’s ideas on the various scandals in journalism, particularly the Leslie Roberts one, which is directly linked to public relations.

In this great piece, Terry mentioned something that stuck with me:

“Let me first address the issue of the name of Khan’s company, Buzz PR. Neither Mr. Khan nor Mr. Roberts have recognized public relations or professional communications management experience or expertise. In fact, Mr. Khan’s stated profession is that of an auctioneer and occasional diamond seller. It appears that Mr. Khan’s primary skills were marketing, promotionalism or publicity — a very narrow slice of the spectrum of the field of media relations.”

In this quote, Terry gets to the heart of the matter concerning the strategic value of public relations – he mentions publicity and promotionalism. This brought to mind Jim Grunig’s four models of the PR practice:

  • Press Agentry/Publicity
  • Public Information
  • One-Way Symmetrical
  • Two-Way Symmetrical

These are summarized nicely here.

For Grunig, the least strategic is the first one: press agentry and publicity, for it is pretty much focused on modifying the behaviours of people to suit the organization’s priorities.

This sort of exclusively persuasive action is not a relationship-building approach to PR, as I have been discussing over the last few posts. Rather, publicity instrumentalizes the public to achieve an end: sales, donations, votes, whatever.

The Two-Way Symmetrical model — while steeped in the gatekeeping tradition endemic to the mass communications model that many argue is now passing — fashioned a model for organizations to establish two-way conversations with stakeholders. Two-way conversations that build trust.

Ethically managing and bringing professionalism to process of building relationships is the domain of the public relations professional.

It could be argued that the two-way symmetrical model has evolved. I will look at that idea tomorrow.

 

 

 

A tribute to Terry Flynn, my dear colleague and PR mentor

Today, my colleague Terry Flynn, co-founder (with Maria Russell) of the McMaster-Syracuse Master of Communications Management program (of which I am director), was interviewed for the McMaster Daily News today. The piece listed his recent achievements and focused on his opinions on the unfolding crises in journalism in the Leslie Roberts, Amanda Lang and Jian Ghomeshi situations.

First, allow me to congratulate my esteemed colleague his recent achievements. Terry was recently:

  •  The first Canadian to ever be elected to the board of trustees of the Arthur W. Page Society — the leading global association of chief communications officers — and
  • Named a board member of the prestigious Institute for Public Relations.
  • Named one of the Top 50 Social Media Marketing Influencers on Twitter by Vocus Research, a global communications research company.

Terry has been an inspiration, mentor and friend to me over the last seven years that I have known him. He has opened the world of PR scholarship and practice to me, by trusting me with his baby – the McMaster-Syracuse MCM program and introducing me to his international network of public relations and communications management colleagues, both professional and academic.

I am proud to know him and owe him a lot. He’s a constant inspiration and support to me.

Strategic PR and the value chain, pt 3

Yesterday I mentioned the concept of strategic PR and linked it to relationships. What did I mean?

At the core of any enterprise, particularly nascent ones like startups, are a set of relationships. The owners or managers of the business have to build relationships with funders, employees, various media, government, third party regulators, and many others, of course.

Most business people haven’t necessarily baked the management of these relationships into their initial business plan. Generally, they use their human intuition and charisma to to drive these relationships, which is really putting a lot of trust on intuition.

In every other aspect of a business plan, we try to push intuition out and replace it with projects and plans that are based on facts, proven models and professional experience. Why should the planning of relationships and their management be any different?

In fact, relationships are a key strategic business asset. PR professionals deal in relationships – it’s PR pros’ responsibility to learn enough about the other areas of business so that they can use the language and logic of business to make the strategic value of relationships clear to business people – beyond intuition and charisma.

Strategic PR and the value chain, pt 2

Yesterday, I talked about how PR pros have to make the value case for their services to business people. Let’s unpack that idea a little more today.

To anyone who works in the public relations, the idea that you should focus on building relationship as a new or on-going business seems obvious. However, that isn’t the conception that many business people have of PR.

My anecdotal experiences have led me to believe that many business people still equate PR with media relations or even publicity. This means that business people are not necessarily thinking about PR as a strategic function that should be included in the initial planning process when starting a business, launching a campaign or managing business development.

The strategic practice of PR focuses on relationships. That’s its core strategic value now.

More tomorrow.

Strategic PR and the value chain, pt 1

It is important for public relations pros to think about where you fit in the value chain of an organization. In a world of always-on, instant communications, it is easy to think that organizations will automatically recognize how important building an managing relationships with stakeholders and other audiences is.

The thing to remember is that for most business people, who are busy getting their enterprise functioning, communicating is not top of mind. Rather, they are focused on what they need to do today to keep the lights on and the business moving forward.

PR pros need to know how to make the value argument – these days that means focusing on how PR contributes to strategy.