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.
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
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!
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 .”
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” 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.”
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.
Today’s barbaric and murderous attack on Charlie Hebdo, the satirical French weekly newsmagazine was the work of an imperialist movement that wants to impose one way of thinking on everyone else. One of the key elements of imposing your will on others is making sure that nobody is allowed to publicize an attractive alternative. There are two professions whose responsibility it is to present a diversity of perspectives and ideas to the public: journalism and public relations.
We have heard a lot today about the courage and responsibility of journalists – even satirical journalists – to challenge power and seek to present alternative perspectives. I would briefly like to reflect on the role of PR in this regard.
The role of public relations is represent organizations and individuals and try to fashion and manage their reputations, relationships and brands, amongst other things, of course. This would not be possible without freedom of speech. It would not be possible for practitioners to promote the ideas of minority groups, start up companies, civic action groups or social justice causes. The fact that over 40% of PR jobs are in the not-for-profit and government sectors is an indication of the how much professional communicators are involved in public communication.
Unlike journalists, who are by their very definition, external to organizations and to power, public relations practitioners usually provide counsel to organizations from the inside. They are often consiglieri to the leaders of organizations in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors. As PR counsel, we provide advice about how to best communicate in the court of public opinion – how to be heard, understood and believed. At our best, PR counsel helps ethically influence public opinion and inspires behaviour change that helps society progress.
Public relations and communications management form a profession that relies upon the ability to express diverse and often contradictory ideas publicly. PR pros put the ideas of our clients to the test of public controversy. As PR practitioners, we should be outspoken and fearless in stubbornly protecting freedom of speech – for the good of our profession and for the good of democracy.
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: