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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.

 

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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.

Mindful of small pleasures: drinks

I sometimes take a moment to think about the things that make me happy or comfortable. I was having a conversation with a friend recently who asked me to blog about stuff that I brings me comfort. I thought that I might write about a few. As you may remember, I wrote a series of 100 posts about my “Life-Loves”. Today I will focus on drinks.

A good flat white. My favourite coffee concoction is the flat white. It’s like a cappuccino, but much velvetier and with a sweeter, more intense coffee flavour. I was happy to see that Starbucks has started offering the flat white in Canada and that the barista who works the mornings in the Starbucks drive through that I frequent can make a great one.

An ounce or two of Amaro Averna after dinner. When served on the rocks and garnished with a sprig of muddled rosemary, Amaro Averna is a fragrant reminder of sunny summer afternoons. It was first recommended to me by a waiter at Soho House Toronto – it was a lovely gift.

I am not a very big tea drinker, but I must say that in winter, I often will have a ginger tea with lemon, or a lemon tea with ginger. I brew this myself, if I can, with filtered water, thinly sliced ginger and lemon. It makes a lovely warming, stomach-settling drink.

Finally, there is nothing like a cool, clear glass of filtered water. Or, my favourite – filtered water (I use a Zero Water filter) carbonated through my sodastream machine. There is nothing more refreshing to me than a glass of freshly made, sparkling filtered water.

I think it is important to think about the things that bring you comfort. You might take a moment to think about what your list would contain.

I won’t get into wines for that requires its own post.

The Leslie Roberts scandal and regulation of PR

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.

 

 

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.

 

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.

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