Friday, July 20, 2018

Grandpa, what was PR like in the last century?



Living in a previous century
I was a public relations manager. 

I wore the uniform.

A dark blue or pinstripe suite, company tie and shiny shoes.

I played rugby but left the language of rugger on the rugby field.

I worked for quite a large private limited liability company.

Most days I met the Chairman during the day and Managing Director at the close of play.

We seldom talked about press coverage (except at monthly review meetings). It was pretty much a formula designed to inform prospective customers and customers and a host of other groups in industry, our industrial sector, employees, local and professional communities, competition, banks and the City.

That is not to say we did not work hard on media relations. Typically it included two feature stories per month. One, a case study of our products in action and one about one of the functions of the company (e.g. it might be a perspective on Health and Safety, Regulatory Affairs, Global Markets, the economy etc.)  We built up a significant library. Across the media, their editorial features offered us an opportunity to use our library and so we re-wrote stories in our library to provide such editorial copy. In all, we probably issued 20 releases per month of which most had a single journalist as the target and mostly it was a response to a request or editorial need.

The primary measure of media relations was comparative positive and negative share of voice. Among our competitors, we seldom came second in positive and almost never ranked in negative coverage in the relevant media.

We encouraged prospective customers and key publics such as suppliers, professional groups, politicians, community groups, trades unions, schools, competitors, journalists etc to visit our premises. Emplyees with the closest relationship with such groups would be host such as sales managers, finance director,  purchasing director etc. Only R&D was out of bounds and so every department was always prepared to receive visitors. 'You find us as we are', was a necessary disclaimer but woe betide the scruffy department.

To help this process the Public Relations Department worked with every department to describe what they did and what their plans were (well, except for commercially sensitive information) in a company briefing document. It was an 'open' document and was the definitive document covering everything including financial reports, history and biographies of the directors.

 It was a very plain looking document. It was a public relations document an so did not have all the bling of a marketers publicity stunt.

The PR department also ran open days for prospective customers, existing customers and all the other groups with an interest in the company, including the press.  It also included tours of the facilities (over a quarter mile of factories and offices). Directors and senior managers were available to talk about almost anything but always deferred to our experts.  For example, I would answer factual questions (from the briefing dossier) about finance but for anything else, I would call on the FD to comment.

It was a public relations policy that staff should be members of work-related professional and community groups. In this way we contributed to the wider community and built up a groundswell of positive, trustworthy relations.

I used to go to Town, District, and County Council meetings and some committees. I met local MP's at local events (and often hosted their events using our facilities). I maintained a dialogue with councillors and Parliamentarians on matters that affected the company, our industry and business at large. This was not a barrage of demands or briefing notes but conversations at events or 'gossip' with their PA's and researchers.

We always asked for feedback and tracked the responses. Everything we did had some sort of measure and results were shared with all the directors as a matter of PR policy.

As a consequence, the Public Relations department was the internal and external eyes and ears of the company and helped guide a network of people in their role as ambassadors.

And then came the Internet...and that was fun and is a different story.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

#AIinPR - A response to Jean Valin's paper


Introduction

This is a paper responding to “Humans still needed An analysis of skills and tools in public relations”  by Jean Valin APR, FCPRS, FCIPR (Hon).

In an exercise like this, there are three big problems.

We look forward to an extension of what we know. Can we think more laterally and thus not be caught out by developments?

Did we really automate printing envelope labels to affix to envelopes and stuff press release and add a stamp before posting or do we simply send an email?. PR jobs have already been automated but who envisaged such an evolution as dramatic as email 25 years ago?

We have difficulty transferring technologies to PR practice. There are great technologies we know about but can’t imagine in a PR work environment. OR we can image it in a PR environment but not our environment - at least not until we retire.

Let's take empathy as an example. We imagine it is a human trait that will not be usefully deployed in PR in the recognisable future. But now we discover research saying “... expect the technologies that surround us to become emotion-aware in the next five years.

That is not to invalided Jaen Valin’s work. It is a great foundation for focusing and evaluating the impact of the big changes that are obvious today. It makes us think more carefully about how to manage a massive transition coming our way.

How big might this transition be?

  • Consider one of the major elements of PR: communication. Imaging that revolutions such as painting, writing, printing, radio and television, the web and social media were but a prelude to telepathy?  
  • A key area of PR is the development of trust  and ethical debate in an era when technologies like blockchain automated many trust based activities and (existing) AI system can listen to a boardroom conversation and take all the evidence and arguments into account and challenge the reasoning of humans (and even make ethical judgements).

In this review of the #AIinPR context, I have challenged some assumptions we have examined so far and proposed a way in which the PR sector can put its practitioners in the forefront of relationship development.

Humans still needed

The question we keep asking if humans will still be needed at some point in the future. Of course, this is the wrong question.

From a macro perspective, countries with advanced PR industries have stagnant or declining populations and where there is huge, life-threatening, population growth (Africa, India, China etc.) the sector is comparatively immature. From a technology perspective, research, development and deployment is often small sector specific and takes a long time to transfer from one sector to another. It needs both creative minds to link development from one sector to another and it requires intelligence to adapt such transfers for PR specific applications.

Finally, there is the problem of adoption. PR people are very conservative. Will they use such capabilities? How many practitioners have built a bot? An AI Bot.

Meantime,the PR industry has some big jobs to do. The social, economic and cultural issues of our time need attention. This management of cultures is a PR issue which has to call on PR capabilities such as communication, politics and organisation strategy development. If  the ‘connected ape’ has mobile data traffic that will increase sevenfold between 2016 and 2021 how do we cope with the consequences? Such capabilities need the help of AI and other technologies but are much more important.

Yes, humans are still needed and mostly in identification and application of capabilities to give more time to the big issues as well as applying technical developments to support clients’ efforts in creating environments to succeed in a technically advancing society in a time of almost unsustainable global population growth.

Questions to consider.

Now, let’s return to “Humans still needed: An analysis of skills and tools in public relations”.

Sentence by sentence it is possible to apply the three tests:

  1. Is this a linear approach?
  2. Is this response limited by technofear/lack of knowledge
  3. Is this too far in the future to be relevant to my kind of practice

Perhaps then we will look for a different response.

We need brave people to ask these question:

  1. “Can this emerging technology be adopted for PR applications?”
  2. “Can this emerging technology be adapted for PR applications?
  3. “How far along the hype cycle is this technology?
  4. “How can this technology be introduced to acceptable, ethical and common PR practice?
  5. What is the narrow and wider threat of this technology?

The reason such questions are so important is that the serried ranks of technology development are already upon us. They will either make PR irrelevant or will offer a competitive advantage to competing interests. In some cases the career threat is in third party use of technology.

As an aside, one can consider threats that come out of apparently nowhere: The very idea that a foreign agent can tweak a technology (Facebook?) and thereby subvert democracy is, for a corporate affairs or political PR practitioner, a challenge to their livelihood (what happened to ‘smoke-filled rooms’, coffee mornings, Corbyn music festivals/rallies and political receptions?).  In the Public Relations practice of the political agent she is held responsible if laws are broken in pursuit of the campaign – libel and copyright infringement on and off-line being amongst the most likely. If other people take part in doing something, they may also end up with a share of responsibility – but the primary responsibility always rests with the agent and cannot be avoided. A Kremlin gang using Facebook can easily deny a practitioner her career.

Examining #AIinPR  from the Global Alliance Global Body of Knowledge perspective


#AIinPR examines AI from quite a narrow perspective as we shall see as the following descriptors are matched to emerging technologies:
  1. Simplification – technology that simplifies a public relations process, or provides a tactical service
  2. Listening and monitoring – media and social media listening and monitoring tools
  3. Automation – automation of tactical tasks
  4. AI for structured data – machine intelligence applied to structured data
  5. AI for unstructured data – machine intelligence applied to unstructured data
I have followed the report as in considering the three categories.

  1. Skills with zero tech or AI
  2. Skills or portions thereof that may have a minor contribution from tech or AI tools
  3. Skills where tech or AI is already more prevalent

I looked at the paragraph:
“Skills with zero tech Of the 52 skills in the GBOK, 17, or 32% of our lists, were deemed to currently have zero tech support. Given the high human aspects associated with judgement, interpretation and experience, we don’t see the ‘zero list’ changing much in future. Fundamental human traits such as empathy, trust, humour and relationship building can’t be automated – at least not yet. Skills such as: flexibility with constant changes, mentoring, familiarity with theories and its application, strategic thinking and ethical considerations are unlikely to be overtaken by AI. There might be tools that inform our decisions now and, in the future, but predominantly, these will remain the domain of humans.”

One by one, and with few exceptions, we find extant technologies that are potential tools for PR even in areas where activities with apparently zero touch are concerned.

I examine them here:

Judgement

Professor Chris Reed at the centre for augmented technology at the University of Dundee commented on a  debate where IBM used artificial intelligence capable of persuasive argument. As applied for human debate this capability might be applied in boardroom decisions were there lots of conflicting points of view and the AI system could listen to the conversation and take all the evidence and arguments into account and challenge the reasoning of humans, suggested Reed. There is also an application where this capability can increase the level of evidence-based decision making. Reported in the Guardian, Reed suggested that the same system could be used in counter-terrorism identifying if a particular person represents a threat.

Interpretation

RAGE AI has developed artificial intelligence technology that scans mountains of structured or unstructured documents. The engine sorts through the data it ingests and provides analysis or interpretation of any patterns it discovers. “RAGE works in both assisted and unassisted mode—assisted by human experts or on its own.

“The use of machine learning to power business decisions and product recommendations is becoming widespread. We experience it when we buy on Amazon, watch TV on Netflix, hail an Uber or tag friends on Facebook. There are more creative experiments out there like The Next Rembrandt app, “machine music composition” and “TV show script generation” that use machine learning to create new art (with mixed results).”

Experience

Experience is now synthesized.  Spotify can use experience to provide answers that its users need (the right music). Experience information is used to provide sales displays and Facebook uses huge consumer experience to match advertising collateral to marketing segments.

The idea to fully replace a designer with an algorithm sounds futuristic, but the whole point is wrong. Product designers help to translate a raw product idea into a well-thought-out user interface, with solid interaction principles and a sound information architecture and visual style, while helping a company to achieve its business goals and strengthen its brand.

Empathy

MIT suggests that empathy and much more to be available to the practitioner: “Nonetheless, the field is progressing so fast that I expect the technologies that surround us to become emotion-aware in the next five years. They will read and respond to human cognitive and emotional states, just the way humans do. Emotion AI will be ingrained in the technologies we use every day, running in the background, making our tech interactions more personalized, relevant, authentic, and interactive. It’s hard to remember now what it was like before we had touch interfaces and speech recognition. Eventually, we’ll feel the same way about our emotion-aware devices”, says Rana el Kaliouby at MIT.

Trust
Trust is already being affected by technology. Of course, we now know there are open technologies that can be trusted it has been the subject for discussion among business consultants for some time. Deloitte say “Beyond creating efficiencies by removing the legal and financial intermediary in a contractual agreement, blockchain is assuming the role of trusted gatekeeper and purveyor of transparency. In the emerging “trust economy” in which a company’s assets or an individual’s online identity and reputation are becoming both increasingly valuable and vulnerable, this latest use case may be blockchain’s most potentially valuable to date”.

Blockchain is a technology that is now part of the PR trust development equation http://bit.ly/2JyHVbQ.

It is being considered in a number of quarters including as a policing technology to ensure trust in brands.  

Humour

“...computers and robots are already pioneering their own comedic stylings, as an accidental byproduct of learning the fundamentals of humour in humans. Computational humour may primarily be an effort on the part of the artificial intelligence community, but it also stands to enrich the comedy world with an unusual outsider perspective.

Relationship building

Hitachi is building relationships to help in customer community building:

Finding customers who generate new value is an important factor in increasing revenue at companies. In the case of outcall sales in particular, how sales representatives acquire new prospective customers has a direct bearing on their performance. Unfortunately, the know-how required to acquire prospective customers is an intuitive skill that is learned by sales representatives through experience and, in many cases, it is not part of the institutional knowledge of the company. In response, Hitachi has developed a customer acquisition support service for identifying introducer models (key people), and for visualizing the human relationships between customers in the form of a network. Along with an AI technology that generates a list of existing customers who have a high likelihood of providing leads on new prospective customers, this article proposes applying this service to support sales, starting with financial institutions.

In effect Hitachi is using AI to identify opinion formers and their communities and the means to use this capability to build communities.

Mike Kelly et al are working on how to make better use of the vast amount of accumulating evidence from behaviour change intervention (BCI) evaluations and promote the uptake of that evidence into a wide range of contexts to implement background behavioural change and at the same time create relationships. It sounds like a PR dream!


Flexibility with constant changes,

The CBI tells us that by 2025 (6.5 year’s time) “…. All of these changes and many others will combine to create a work experience that is very different. Workers will be constantly connected; freelance and flexible work will be commonplace, and employees will be able to enjoy a highly personalised and collaborative work experience.

Mentoring,

AI is being used in education in many ways. Adoption of best practice and harnessing existing tech can be used in mentoring based on open source, industry wide, experience. The US Navy is already showing the way. This is a CPD course in the making.

Familiarity with theories and its application


This is another case of using AI to interpret experience to expose theory and practice to practitioners. Imagining AI bots offering experience is not so difficult in 2018. By 2019 it could be commonplace.

Strategic thinking

Accounting and consulting firm Deloitte has developed a new Artificial Intelligence (AI) based method that can produce strategic market analysis and benchmark reports in the blink of an eye.

Hywel Ball, EY’s UK head of audit, says new technology such as data analytics, AI and robotic process automation is changing both what and how audits are undertaken. “It is enabling us to search, sift and sort through large quantities of data – from company reports to social media – these tools are helping auditors to identify potential areas of risk and to understand a company’s performance at a more granular level,” he says.

They are also providing insights into areas that were once thought to be impossible to measure, such as culture. “These insights can be really valuable to clients. What was once called the auditor’s ‘nose’ – or gut instinct – is increasingly being automated by advanced data analytics,” he says.
“AI can automate a lot of knowledge gathering and will help free up our people to focus on higher-value strategic work and provide more fulfilling responsibilities. These developments will, in turn, create opportunities to develop new roles and positions for the future, while the skills we need will also continue to evolve.

Ethical considerations

DeepMind Ethics Society (DMES), a unit comprised of both full-time DeepMind employees and external fellows, is the company’s latest attempt to scrutinise the societal impacts of the technologies it creates.

There might be tools that inform our decisions now and, in the future, but predominantly, these will remain the domain of humans.

Researchers aggregated millions of human responses to teach an AI how to behave when faced with an ethical dilemma.

Skills with zero touch - a perspective.


Jean Valin put forward a perspective that there are PR skills beyond the reach of AI in the near future. I have put forward a contrary view and have shown that most ‘zero touch’ activities have an AI counterpart.

Our problem is finding out how we can harness these capabilities and make them part of PR education and practice.

Of course, there is more to be done to help make the transformative technologies servants of PR practice and competitively ahead of those who wish to invade our space.

There is much more to do. A lot is to develop a more complete response to Jean’s work. It is a great start.

In the meantime, there is a lot of fundamental research that needs doing. We need a much more profound understanding of many areas of PR to inform our responses to the challenges of the emerging transformative technologies.

David Phillips

June 2018

Friday, April 06, 2018

Trust and Transformative Technologies

In a paper “Cultural Relations Theory” (Danbry and Philips) we describe an evolution of PR in which big data extracted from online and social media interaction provides the resource to identify cultures large and small.

In doing so we challenge the historic approaches to public relations in its use of broad and hard-edged segmentation of people and institutions (e.g. ‘market segments’, ‘publics,’ ‘stakeholders’ organisations etc). In the Culture Relations Theory, we posit that modern technologies detect and process micro values to expose inter-culture nuance which is now a potential tool for relationship management. Organisational values and the penumbra of, to a greater or lesser degree, associated cultural values, we postulate, describe and proscribe the culture of the organisation. The time, location, person, technology, channel, content, interaction and many more attributes of modern communication has become the raw material of values to be mined and forged into cultural models describing elements in relationships. Many such values explicitly or implicitly represent trust.

A large part of relationship building and management involves trust as an intangible asset.

The nature of trust among the elements of the ‘Cultural Relations Theory is discussed in this paper.

The question is, whether this theory and these new technologies have a role to play in isolating the elements of trust in an attempt to be able to identify levers of management that aid development of commercially valuable ‘trust’.

In this post, I postulate that this is a distinct possibility.

I examine the nature of trust; its value, and explore recent commentary; the available resources to identify trust and examine potential tools that can now be deployed to aid management.

There are a number of definitions of trust. The Wikiwand definition is a good start (see below) and the Merriam Webster dictionary offers this definition:

Assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something: one in which confidence is placed

  • Dependence on something future or contingent: hope
  • Reliance on future payment for property (such as merchandise) delivered: credit
  • A property interest held by one person for the benefit of another
  • A combination of firms or corporations formed by a legal agreement; especially: one that reduces or threatens to reduce competition
  • Care, custody (the child committed to her trust)
  • A charge or duty imposed in faith or confidence or as a condition of some relationship
  • Something committed or entrusted to one to be used or cared for in the interest of another
As will be shown, the range of elements that offer common or interactive values can be used for modelling each of these definitions of trust. However, in this post I will tend to explore the first two as being most immediately relevant to the practice of PR.

Trust is a key and fundamental part of being a balanced human being.

According to Erik Erikson, we all encounter a certain crisis that contributes to our psychosocial growth at each of his stages of psychosocial development. Trust, he says is an early essential in psychological developments (see below).

The first stage of the Erikson stages starts from infant to about 18 months. At this stage, infants must learn how to trust others, particularly those who care for their basic needs. They should feel that they are being cared for and that all their needs are met.

Small babies are new to this world and may view the outside world as threatening. Depending on how they are treated by people around them, the sense of threat can be replaced by trust. When this happens, they gain a sense of security and begin to learn to trust people around them.

The first and most important people to teach an infant about trust are usually the parents. Parents are expected to take good care of their children and attend to their needs. For example, “the parents of a baby provide it with food, shelter, sustenance and make him feel very comfortable and secure.“

Trust is analysed at an interpersonal level by academics like Jeffrey A Simpson4 and Julian B Rotter (see below). They discuss the positive and potential negative consequences of being high or low in interpersonal trust in current social life, particularly in interacting with ordinary people.

A summary and analysis of previous investigations led Rotter to the following conclusions: “People who trust more are less likely to lie and are possibly less likely to cheat or steal. They are more likely to give others a second chance and to respect the rights of others. The high truster is less likely to be unhappy, conflicted, or maladjusted, and is liked more and sought out as a friend more often, by both low-trusting and high-trusting others.” When gullibility is defined as naiveté or foolishness and trust is defined as believing others in the absence of clear-cut reasons to disbelieve, then it can be shown over a series of studies that high trusters are not more gullible than low trusters6.

Research by Garske (referenced below), indicated ‘convergent and discriminant validation for the generalized expectancy construct of trust; interpersonal trust tended to be related with personality traits that suggested a social orientation and adaptive functioning’.

Trust was also viewed as bearing a relationship with concrete thinking and conformity. Correlations between the factors of the Interpersonal Trust Scale (Political Trust, Paternal Trust, and Trust of Strangers) were similar to the above correlations but less substantial. The total trust score appeared to be a better predictor of personality than any of its factor scores.” (referenced below)

In short, trust is a fundamental human driver. It is a contract between persons and or institutions in which the one undertakes to warrant values and capabilities to a given and transparent extent.

It is a socially shared phenomenon.

Trust can be developed at a point in time where there is rudimentary mutual recognition.

It is a key component of relationships.

Trust can be a one, or two-way exchange or formed via a cultural network. It is expressed by people and cultures in tokens mutually acknowledged with one or more other cultures. Such tokens can be both tangible and intangible. Personal cultures of trusting people has some very significant benefits.

This means that there is no possibility of relationships being formed without at least some element of positive or negative trust (tokens) between the parties.

There is an element of timeliness in trust. It can form, change and develop between parties over time. It is to a greater or lesser degree, durable.

The extent to which there is greater or lesser trust as between one organisation and another, or expressed another way, between one cultura end another is also an element in the trust equation.

Finally, the extent to which tokens are acceptable, namely, are regarded as positive, negative or emotionally empathetic as part of the culture of the organisation is important.

Thus, trust is the key element of relationships. It is at the core of all Public Relations.

The extent to which trust is valuable will, no doubt, affect how much the PR industry invests in its management.

There are many current case studies where we see the evaporation of trust in corporate values in corporately cataclysmic terms. Facebook, Oxfam, Grenfell Tower and Bell Pottinger are cases where trust in values, competencies and culture have contributed to loss of confidence, disastrous financial performance and thereby survival.

Trust is an element of corporate survival. It forms the basis upon which organisations can trade. It has wide implications.

The Edelman ‘Trust Barometer’, said to be representative of 84% of the global population, posits that “As we begin 2018, we find the world in a new phase in the loss of trust: the unwillingness to believe information, even from those closest to us. The loss of confidence in information channels and sources is the fourth wave of the trust tsunami. The moorings of institutions have already been dangerously undermined by the three previous waves: fear of job loss due to globalization and automation; the Great Recession, which created a crisis of confidence in traditional authority figures and institutions while undermining the middle class; and the effects of massive global migration. Now, in this fourth wave, we have a world without common facts and objective truth, weakening trust even as the global economy recovers.”

News and sources of information are key drivers in trust as both the Edelman and Ipsos Mori Veracity Index (see below) surveys show.

Trust has a role in macro relationships across the globe.

The cost of developing a trusting relationship can be high. Creating a contract between a new supplier and an organization will involve the cost of references and data exchange an much more. Second time round, these costs are much reduced and over a long period of time may virtually vanish. Such relationships are lubricated by implied trust.

The World Economic Forum notes the massive and cost implications of the failure of trust:


“If a contract fails to allocate responsibilities adequately, incentives to breach obligations and create disputes can arise. Increasingly, larger capital projects and a lack of trust between parties are leading to ever more complex contracts that are hard to understand".

It would seem from the above that identifying the elements of trust is a big job and sorting out all the elements to provide a practical management structure is hard.”

Global accountants Price Waterhouse Coopers note:

“Trust is even more important where you rely upon others to keep your promises. Specialisation, offshoring, outsourcing and cost cutting – this is the reality of business and your reliance on third parties will only grow. A complex portfolio of relationships needs to work effectively to deliver the promises you make to all your stakeholders.”12

How, for example, can the PR practitioners identify the extent to which one organisation is more trustworthy than others? How can we change levels of trust between cultures?

The extent to which an organisation’s cultural values are stable or are warranted internally or by external agents are elements of trust.

There is a legal twist:

Although good faith clauses can be automatically implied in, for example, employment contracts or contracts of a fiduciary nature, or by statute, it is different for commercial agreements. The position is somewhat different. The courts have found that although a duty of good faith is implied by law in relation to, for example, contracts of employment, the general rule in commercial contracts was that if parties wished to impose a duty, they must do so expressly. The Court considered the case stronger still for saying that if the parties wished to produce the result that each of them has the right to terminate the contract in the event that they lost trust and confidence in the other, even when the other party is not in breach of contract and it may be unreasonable, then they should do so expressly. In this case ‘trust’ has to be determined in a legal contract.

In ‘Contract, Governance and Transaction Cost Economics’, Oliver E Williamson puts the case for substituting legal contract for trust13. It is a tough call. Trust is so fundamental to human existence.

There is considerable anecdotal and empirical evidence which identifies the value of trust. But can we find a way for measuring and monitoring trust in its complexity?

In conversation with Dr Jon White he makes the point that data analysis allows more precise prediction, and works through to a more complete picture. However, a point brought home at the 2017 Behavioural Exchange Conference (bx2017.org) was that, unless public relations can work with the possibilities emerging, it's hard to see much future for the practice in providing useful advice.


Dr Daniel Lim, Data Scientist; Special Assistant to Chief Executive, Government Technology Agency, Singapore showed, at this conference some of the many forms of analysis of big data14 which is part of Culture Relations Theory.

PR is having to recognize that transformative technologies are part of its daily life. The alternative is early retirement.

Once, getting data was hard and expensive. Now, a lot of such data is being given away (I will address this area of the Theory in more detail in the near future).

A simple case is that of Facebook. It provides a range of tools to help people get data. These ‘Big Data’ integrate into all manner of software. Of course, it is dwarfed by similar data available from Google, which is part of a suite of available services not least is speech and text analysis including tone and emotional markers. IBM has other API services which offer free or low-cost access to the information needed. Such mountains of data can use software such as t-SNE for dimensional reduction that is particularly well suited for the visualization of high-dimensional datasets.

Led by authors such as Don Tapscott, the nature of Blockchain as a computer programme that enforces trust is important. The Open University puts is very well:

“Blockchain is most commonly known as the technology underpinning the Bitcoin cryptocurrency. But in recent years the open source code of the Bitcoin blockchain has been taken and extended by many groups to expand its capabilities. Blockchain technology, which can be thought of as a public distributed ledger, promises to revolutionise the financial world. A World Economic Forum survey in 2015 found that those polled believe that there will be a tipping point for the government use of blockchain by 2023. Governments, large banks, software vendors and companies involved in stock exchanges (especially the Nasdaq stock exchange) are investing heavily in the area. For example, the UK Government recently announced that it is investing £10M into blockchain research and Santander have identified 20-25 internal use cases for the technology and predict a reduction of banks’ infrastructure costs by up to £12.8 billion a year22.

The reach of blockchain technology will go beyond the financial sector, however, through the use of ‘smart contracts’ which allow business and legal agreements to be stored and executed online. For example, the startup company Tallysticks aims to use blockchain based smart contracts to automate invoicing.

In October 2015 Visa and DocuSign showcased a proof of concept demonstrating how smart contracts could be used to greatly speed up the processes involved in car rental – rental cars can be driven out of the car park without any need to fill in or sign forms.

The ability to run smart contracts led Forbes to recently run an article comparing the future impact of blockchains to that of the Web and Internet.
We believe the blockchain technology and smart contracts can also be used in education in many interesting and potentially revolutionary scenarios. On the OU website, you can see some of the ways we see the future of education developing using the blockchain and what we are doing to progress towards our vision.“ (http://blockchain.open.ac.uk/)

These forms of transparency, are an extension of early findings first expressed by the CIPR/PRCA Internet Commission in 2000. The, perhaps hapless, public and organisation is ever more porous and transparent and contributes richness and aided by every widening reach, is now subject to many computer programmes acting as agents to transform cultures many of which are extensions to brands.

What is becoming apparent is that many people are examining transparency (and automated radical transparency as exemplified by blockchain technologies) as an alternative to trust. This is a subject that is dealt with in much greater detail as part of the Cultural Relations Theory elsewhere.

We are beginning to find organisation exposing selective information in an effort to replace investment in trust relationships. Progressively, exposure of corporate data driven by porosity and internet-mediated transparency supersedes such data and there are many case studies.

With the capability of the internet to expose values and tokens as data and to explore this content to expose clusters of values. It becomes possible to process such assets.

To be able to identify the clusters of values that add up to trusting relationships is a considerable asset. There is a need for more research but it is possible to speculate that such trust values can be examined and to identify the possible damage loss of trust might emerge.

This is a way that in the near future it will be possible to value trust.

Here we have it, a means by which trust can be measured and used commercially. This will not be a solution to fit all eventualities and in many cases will be completely bespoke. All such research has to conform to good standards of research practice to be valuable and all results need to be, at least, replicable.

Trust is essential and is a basic in PR. It is a well-researched area of humankind. It is commercially important and has considerable commercial value.

The evolution of technologies that can acquire big data; facilities to store and analyse it and software to build trust models for commercial use is now available.

This is an area of fast developments and an opportunity to implement additional research is wide open.



@ David G H Phillips
February 2018




Further reading:

Endnotes

1.  Danbury A and Phillips David GH “Cultural Relations Theory - an evolution powered by Transformative Technologies“ Presented to the 23rd International Conference on Corporate and Marketing Communications Exeter April 2018
2.  http://bit.ly/2HoqqXe

Friday, August 18, 2017

A background briefing about cryptocurrencies for the PR industry


Most people have heard of Bitcoin. It is a global digital currency. It is one of many.


It raises many questions including: How long will it take to disrupt the old concept of Central Banks? Can they survive? Where is the opportunity?

Are cryptocurrencies of particular interest to PR and what do we need to know what it all means?

In three years, a simple process such as paying for University courses will be different. Today, the University of Cumbria accepts Bitcoins. Now, fifteen marketing agencies are accepting Bitcoin for client payments and there is already a Bitcoin ATM in Penzance.

The Bitcoin system is peer-to-peer, and transactions take place between users directly, without an intermediary. In 2015, the number of merchants accepting Bitcoin exceeded 100,000 according to Cuthbertson. PR people are asked to explain how cryptocurrencies work. Here is one such example. There are more comprehensive examples like this one.

Basically, people from around the world sign up to digital ‘wallets’ that gives them access to these virtual currencies. This allows for instantaneous transactions and borderless transfer-of-ownership. These are cryptocurrencies. Scotland already has a digital currency.


Bitcoin is a global digital currency created in 2009 that uses decentralised technology for secure payments and storing money that doesn't require banks or people's names.


People see value in money free from government control and the fees banks charge. Bitcoin has been seen as a tool for private, anonymous transactions. It has many commercial advantages but has a dark side as the payment method of choice for drug deals and other illegal purchases.


In the 'normal' world, Lush Cosmetics is one end of the scale of organisations accepting Bitcoin while Dadiani Fine Art, located in Cork Street, London, is revolutionizing how buyers can pay for art by accepting Bitcoin.


As of July 2017, there were around 16.5m bitcoins in circulation. In March 2017, the value of a Bitcoin, at $1,268, exceeded that of an ounce of gold ($1,233) for the first time.


There are many cryptocurrencies, all derivatives of the Blockchain technologies and each with their own features and benefits. Their value is still very volatile.


These ‘currencies’ transcend national boundaries and have potential to disrupt the traditional role of Central Banks such as the Bank of England, the FED and the ECB.  One can ask, what is the role of central banks when there is a virtual global bank, with unlimited liquidity, that anyone in the world can use for free which is issuing global coins and setting global exchange rates.


In addition, it is worth examining the way blockchain technologies can bring about - and justify - new models of governance.


In PR, it will be important for professionals to know about cryptocurrencies. Many will charge and be paid using this new coinage over the next five years. Some PR vendors will be paid in digital coins - and international transactions can be much less expensive using digital currencies. In addition, the industry will have to explain why clients are legitimately using Bitly (after all, it does have a dark side). Ensuring that organisations use cryptocurrencies ethical is part of the PR job.


This is a new financial environment. It is attracting a lot VC-backing for start-ups like Colu which is open-sourcing its banking infrastructure known as Bankbox in an effort to remove the technical barriers and reduce costs for central banks that want to issue digital currencies.


Examples of Central Banks looking at digital currencies include Russia, which is getting more into digital currency development with its central bank launching tests of several digital currency schemes. There are other examples such as Singapore.


There are local communities in the UK as in East London which has become home to its own local digital currency, aimed at encouraging spending at local businesses.

The European Community has some big players such as Barclays, State Street, Credit Suisse, Bank of Ireland and Fidelity looking at this space. Germany has an interesting initiative. Digital currencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum will gain support in Germany with the founding of a new nationwide federal digital currency and blockchain lobby group called the ‘Blockchain Bundesverband’ – the German Federal Blockchain Association.





Central bank-issued digital currencies.
At the moment, the Bank of England provides electronic accounts to banks and key financial institutions, but the public can only hold central bank money in physical form – as banknotes. If a central bank were to issue a digital currency everyone, including businesses, households and financial institutions other than banks, could store value and make payments in electronic central bank money in addition to being able to pay with cash.


While this may seem like a small change, it could have wide-ranging implications for monetary policy and financial stability.
We are undertaking a multi-year research programme into the implications of a central bank, like the Bank of England, issuing a digital currency. We first raised the possibility of a central bank-issued digital currency in our research agenda in February 2015. We have since released a more detailed selection of research questions on the topic. We welcome continued engagement from the wider central banking and academic community to shape our research in this emerging field.


For further information, email DigitalCurrenciesTeam@bankofengland.co.uk

Professor Laurie Simon Hodrick, A. Barton Hepburn Professor of Economics in the Faculty of Business, Columbia Business School, says:


“The distributed ledger, while not yet ready for wide scale adoption, may be a transformative technology that provides ubiquitous, safe, faster electronic solution(s) for making a broad variety of business and personal payments, supported by a flexible and cost-effective
means for payment, clearing and settlement groups to settle their positions rapidly and with finality.”


One might also ask ‘what is the long term role of a Central Bank with so much trade being executed using digital currencies?


The US Congress wants answers from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) about its investigation into bitcoin tax avoidance. Senator Orrin Hatch, Representative Kevin Brady and Representative Vern Buchanan – requested information about the IRS’s overall strategy toward digital currencies in a letter dated 17th May.


Bitcoin is at risk of no longer being the biggest digital currency. Meanwhile, mass data giant Thomson Reuters, the parent company of multinational news agency Reuters, has released a new tool called ‘Blockone IQ’ to enable clients to plug into its market data with their blockchain systems.


The American Institute for Economic Research’s recent analysis suggested that while Bitcoin dominates media and investor attention, it and dozens of other “altcoins” are competing in the market, each with unique technical and economic features. AIER asks “Would it be possible in the future to have widespread adoption of several digital currencies, all widely traded and accepted by merchants? Or would people converge on one or at most a few currencies? In a future where digital currencies replace dollars and euros, the latter scenario seems a good deal more likely.” It is very easy to use Bitcoin and so it is a threat to present currencies.



Barclays has been in contact with one of UK's top financial regulators, a senior official for the bank said recently.


According to Ashok Vaswani, CEO of Barclays UK, the bank communicated with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to bring cryptocurrencies  "into play". Vaswani disclosed the conversations in an interview with CNBC.


Vaswani did not elaborate what exactly such "play" is, remarking that the bank been working with financial technology startups and the FCA for projects that focus on blockchain.


"We have been talking to a couple of fintechs and have actually gone with the fintechs to the FCA to talk about how we could bring, the equivalent of Bitcoin, not necessarily Bitcoin, but cryptocurrencies into play," he told the network.


As for how the regulator might react to the push, that remains to be seen.

Though the FCA has played an active role in creating an environment that fosters innovation – the regulator has welcomed a number of blockchain and digital currency related start-ups into its experimental "sandbox" – it has also expressed caution in recent weeks about investing in cryptocurrencies.


"I am not saying that we view digital currencies as an inherently bad thing … but we do have to exercise a degree of caution," Chris Woolard, the FCA's director of strategy and competition, said during a blockchain-related event earlier this month.

Going beyond digital currencies

There are some initiatives that look exciting such as the LSE/IBM initiative. The London Stock Exchange Group (LSEG) recently partnered with IBM to build a blockchain solution to digitally issue private securities of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Europe. The new platform’s goal is to help simplify tracking and managing shareholder information by storing it all on a distributed ledger, effectively opening up new opportunities for trading and investing.


A further form of licence can be offered to other banking institutions operating out of the UK.


The US Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) is exploring an accounting standard for digital currency in response to increasing concerns about inconsistent accounting standards.


FASB, which sets standards for U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) adopted by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, will consider adding this project to its agenda at a public meeting, the time of which has not been set, according to Thomson Reuters


The Chamber of Digital Commerce (CDC) requested standards to address concerns that have emerged in the expanding digital currency market. CDC sent a letter on June 8 seeking the FASB’s help in providing guidance to determine when to recognize digital currency and how to measure it.

The PR sector can learn from this that cryptocurrencies are here and are being taken seriously by the major financial institutions in the world. They are evolving fast.

They will affect and be used in PR as they are already in marketing. Time to read-up about them and not be taken by surprise.


Just in... The tax collecting agencies (and probably the security services) are able to track cryptocurrency movements and using such a 'vapour-trail' are able to seek court orders to find out the identity of the coin. http://bit.ly/2vsBZ8z.