Building the case for PR: Helping startups succeed

Let’s continue with the analysis that I began in yesterday’s post on law’s status as a respected profession and the fact that public relations is generally held in lesser esteem. The question a few people posed to me in emails is: “What can we do to garner more status and prestige for PR?”

For me, the first, most glib answer is: show people how PR can help them generate value. That usually means finding ways to aid business develop or to be part of the starting business plan for a new enterprise.

In this world driven by social media and interpersonal connectivity, the very fundamental element of marketing a new product is building a community around it. That means that public relations and communications management, should – in theory – be a first call for startups. Why isn’t it?

The answer lies in the fact that many PR people appreciate and understand publicity, celebrity and influence, but they often don’t have as thorough an understanding of how commerce or business works.

So the low-hanging fruit is for PR pros to gain an understanding of how businesses work: how they develop the relationships necessary to create a product, bring through production and to market. Then the case for introducing PR into that value chain could be easier to identify.

Really, the role of PR is to create and manage the relationships necessary for businesses to bring commercial success.

 

Advertisements

Addressing PR’s problematic reputation

In a recent speech, PR luminary Harold Burson said that Richard Nixon, during the Watergate scandal, contributed to the negative perception of PR when he referred to “PR flacks” and used PR as an equivalent term to spin or manipulating public opinion: “We will have to PR that…”

Since then, public relations has been vilified in the media and popular imagination as supporting the powerful at all costs and promoting corrupt business practices that are not in the public interest. This is a sad state of affairs that needs to be addressed.  As far as I see it, there are two ways to do this.

1. Defend and self-blame.

  • Institute ever stricter ethical constraints,
  • Issue position papers on the virtues of PR, etc.

2. Build our prestige and status.

  • Seek regulation and professionalization,
  • Promote the value that PR adds for relationship-building and winning in the court of public opinion.

If you examine law, the sister profession of PR: it operates in the court of law, its practitioners are not widely trusted or admired, but it granted status and is respected because it is perceived to be :

  • a difficult profession in which to excel;
  • a powerful profession populated by smart, powerful and influential people;
  • prestigious academic programs from strong schools lead to the profession; and
  • access to the practice is regulated officially.

We know that continuing to work on increasing PR ethics and professional standards is crucial, but it is not enough. I think that PR wins by adopting option two: building prestige and status for the profession.

Applications OPEN for the McMaster-Syracuse MCM program 2015-16

As program director, I am pleased to announce that applications to our extraordinary Master of Communications Management program are now open!

The MCM program offered in partnership between McMaster University’s DeGroote School of Business and Dept of Communication Studies and Multimedia and the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.

The MCM program combines four core MBA courses with four core strategic communications management courses.

Program Structure: The academic program provides the participant with core courses in key areas

Communications Management Core:
(4 required courses; 12 credits)
Management Core:
(4 required courses, 12 credits)
  • MCM 711 Organizational Public Relations
  • MCM 712 Public Relations Research
  • MCM 714 Strategic Public Relations Management
  • MCM 715 Applied Ethics in Communications Management
  • MCM 721 Strategic Management
  • MCM 722 Financial Reporting and Management Accounting
  • MCM 723 Managerial Finance
  • MCM 724 Marketing Management
Electives*:
(2-3 courses; 6-9 credits)
Capstone Project or Thesis:
(3-credit project or 6-credit thesis)
  • MCM 731 Reputation and Brand Management
  • MCM 732 Communication Frontiers: Social Media
  • MCM 735 Negotiation: Theory and Practice
  • MCM 741 Crisis Communications
  • MCM 742 Social Media and Mobility: Strategy and Management

 *This is a small sample of potential electives

  • Students have the choice to a professional capstone project (equivalent to one course) and three electives, or will write a scholarly thesis (equal to two courses) and take two electives.

The MCM faculty are an extraordinary group of business and communications professors from McMaster and Syracuse Universities. As well, we bring together top talent from the private sector to teach in the program – our practitioner instructors all work in the c-suite or are successful entrepreneurs.

The MCM program provides you the tools, the learning and the success-mentality to be become a manager, entrerpeneur or college/university instructor in the rapidly growing field of communications!

Apply to take the MCM program – where communications and business meet!

MCM LOGO

Harold Burson thinks the widening wealth gap is bad for business

 

Harold Burson presents to the 20th Anniversary Reunion of the Master of Science in Comms Mgt from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University.
Harold Burson presents to the 20th Anniversary Reunion of the Master of Science in Comms Mgt from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University.

Harold Burson, founder of Burson-Marsteller, the world’s largest PR firm, thinks that the huge and widening gap between rich and poor bad for business. I agree.

I had a wonderful time yesterday at the #ComMgtat20 reunion of the alumni of the M.S. in Communications Management program offered by the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. This is the American sister program of the McMaster-Syracuse Master of Communications Management, of which I am director.

Harold Burson was the keynote speaker. At 93 years of age, he is still active and completely engaged. He delivered a fantastic speech, referring sometimes to his notes, but not often.

He made a made powerful and deeply insightful points during his presentation to the rapt crowd of 60 or so alumni present, but here are some key points that stuck with me:

  • The wide and growing wealth gap between the business elite and everyone else has drastically reduced trust in business and is therefore bad for business.
  • The replacement of “reasonable profit” with “maximal profit” as a core value of business mean that organizations are not investing in all of the departments they used to. Something is lost when organizations become too lean and profit-maximizing.
  • PR started to get a bad name when Richard Nixon called PR people flacks and said “we have to PR that” during the Watergate scandal.
  • The PR industry in the public interest is about “changing attitudes and behaviours .”
  • The 4 roles for ‪#‎PR‬ in business are (via a FB post from Terry Flynn):
    • sensor of social change;
    • conscience of organization;
    • communicator (inside/outside the  organization);
    • org climate monitor/ombudsperson.
  • As long as the PR industry is engaged in following trends and fashions rather than investing in the science of relationships, reputation and behaviour change, it will not be a strategic business function.

His points are well taken. We are in the business of building trust, credibility, relationships and reputation. You can’t do that when a majority of the population think that business is somehow duping them or reducing the quality of their lives so that the bottom line could be improved.

Authenticity versus consistency in PR

“Authenticity” has become a buzzword in public relations especially in talk about social media. I think this may be an error. I think the best we can do is consistency.

Authenticity is a tricky concept. The dictionary defines authenticity as adhering to tradition or sticking to the facts, but that isn’t how most people understand the term. The folk understanding of authenticity is “be yourself” or “be original.”

The problem is that organizations have very little possibility of ever presenting an “authentic” self. The same goes for anyone who doesn’t have the time or ability forge personal relationships with their online “friends.”

I suspect that the best we can do, in the ephemeral world of fleeting status updates and tweets is maintain consistency. Really, isn’t consistency and predictability what we really mean by authenticity, anyhow?

“Be yourself” or “be original might just be code for “be consistent” and “be predictable.”

How can PR be part of senior management?

You hear a lot about public relations pros wanting a seat at the senior management table or in the c-suite. The question is: what does this mean, other than being a vague validation of the importance of the field?

I had lunch at the Modern with a brilliant, independent-minded communications and management consultant in New York City today.

Here are some thoughts that came up during our intense and interesting conversation:

1. It means having communications be part of the initial stages of the business planing and development process. That means that when people are starting a new business, they should think: “I need to include a professional communicator on my team.”. Not as an implementer or as an order-taker, but as a former of the business.

2. It means that we have know how business works: how new communications disrupt existing processes and create new ones that create new business lines. Not helping to streamline or publicize the plans – no. Communications needs to be part of the reason for the business’s existence – at the heart of the biz plan.

3. Communications needs to understand and be able to evaluate our own value proposition. This means understand how social media and mobile computing have revolutionised the world’s cultures and economies by putting interpersonal communication and relationships at the heart of commerce.

 

Effective analytics in PR: Track your value.

Metrics are the language an organization’s department uses to represent its value to the rest of the organization. Metrics, when well chosen, serve as much a storytelling function as they do a benchmarking and performance evaluation one.

That’s why it is very important for public relations and communications management professionals to choose metrics that adequately capture the reality of the work you are doing and what you are achieving for the organization.

Dave Scholz, in an article written for the Journal of Professional Communication sums it up nicely: “This statement by the summit members is the ongoing issue, I believe, when it comes to AVE. When AVE goes away, it leaves a return on investment vacuum for many people in the industry.” Dave is specifically talking about Advertising Value Equivalence and how it is a bad metric for PR here, but his more general point is well-taken. There is a vacuum of good metrics in PR.

Later in his article, Dave talks about the Barcelona Principles as a great start for developing effective public relations and communications management metrics.

For me, the key is to focus on developing a set of metrics, in consultation with the decision-makers in your organization that accurately capture the the three Rs:

  • Reputation,
  • Relationships, and
  • Reliable Results.