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.
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.
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.
It cannot be debated that the PR profession has seen an extraordinary ascendancy since the rise in popularity of digital communication and social media. However, there are many leftover ideas from the mass communications era of PR that ended with the social media revolution. The Leslie Roberts situation is an example of this.
The old version of public relations relied on a structured, gate-keeping model of access to the public conversation. It relied on PR experts having relationships with editors, journalists, advertisers and other influencers – on a one-on-one basis. This was true because of the the power that resided in the hands of gatekeepers to the public conversation like Leslie Roberts or Amanda Lang, both of whom face allegations of unethical journalistic behaviour.
The new social media era of interactive media, where consumers of information have become prosumers of information is putting an end to this. In fact, when we saw the low level of interest in the take of Sun Media, it could have been attributed to the fact that the news media no longer had a monopoly on the public conversation.
The fact that Canadians are taking the Leslie Roberts scandal so seriously is more a legacy of the idea of the office of the broadcaster than the actual damage to the public conversation that Leslie Roberts’ alleged unethical booking habits may have caused. The fact is that his was one voice in the Canadian public conversation, growing ever fainter with the advent of more independent journalists and in-house content producers for public, private and not-for-profit organizations.
The most important lesson to be taken from this is that PR ethics are actually becoming more important than journalistic ethics in these days when a dwindling minority of Canadians watch traditional broadcasting news media, and rather turn to blogs, news aggregators, independent journalists and their social media network for news and information.
This does bring to the fore the debate around whether the PR profession should be regulated – like accountants, for whom the CPA designation means that they can perform certain privileged professional operations, or lawyers who need to pass the bar to be able to perform certain duties.
Would regulation help avoid situations like those created by the firm BuzzPR? I think this is an important question to ask.
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.
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.
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)
(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
(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!