Tuesday, August 16, 2005

PR is 'becoming a management function'

This claim was made by Professor James E Grunig (pictured).

No doubt most people in PR would be horrified to imagine that their work is a process. Each likes to imagine that they have an approach and creativity that is unique and more profoundly effective than any other in the field.

On the other hand most like the idea that PR is identified as a unique capability in the corporate management mix.

We can't have it both ways.

Professor James Grunig noticed thechange in the speech he gave in 2001. He said:

I have observed public relations practice around the world as a scholarly researcher for over 35 years. In general, I believe five trends are occurring. First, public relations is becoming a profession with a scholarly body of knowledge. Second, public relations is becoming a management function rather than only a technical communication function. Third, public relations practitioners are becoming strategic counselors who are less preoccupied with publicity in the mass media than their predecessors. Fourth, public relations has moved from a profession practiced only by white males to a profession with a female majority and with practitioners of many racial and ethnic backgrounds. Finally, I believe that almost all public relations practice today is global rather than confined to the borders of only one company.”

Take accounting, human recourse management, production engineering or purchasing. Each of those disciplines is a discrete form of management and each has its own processes to aid the management of organisations. Some, like accounting and the law have huge institutional and legal frameworks the proscribe their activities. But all of these 'professions' are, in their own right, creative and specialist. In addition, most managers use some of the skill sets of these varied management practices in their daily life. Budget planning and management in the marketing department uses, among other skills: accounting, human resource management and purchasing management. Thus the skills of the Accountant are shared among other managers as is HR and purchasing.

PR is but another management discipline. Its process can be codified. It is one that, until now and despite the work of Grunig, has not been explicated.

One reason may be because there are so many forms of public relations and the big problem was identifying the underlying practice and common elements of the 40 or so recognisable forms of PR (domains of practice). In addition it has an extensive and broad value chain of practitioner/vendors all working in the same field.

Is it that PR is about reputation, communication or perhaps representing the outside world inside the organisation? Perhaps PR is the part of the company that is the ethics arbiter or provides the capability to foresee danger and 'surprises?

All of these things are true to a greater or lesser degree for some areas of practice and not others. A party planner may be horrified to believe that her work might be about advising the organisation on ethics. Each domain of practice has different priorities and forms of activity. This is true of other professions. Book keepers are not the same as auditors or cashiers – these are different skills in accounting. As for accounting so too for PR.

So what is it that underlies the practice of PR?

It is my thesis that the primary reason for organisations to use PR is to create, sustain, change and nurture relationships in the optimum interests of the organisation and thereby change its value.

In managing relationships we use a very wide range of skills and capabilities. We might use press relations, the web, parties, briefing events and so forth but all are aimed at management of relationships.

The management discipline “Managing Relationships”, like accounting is a distributed form of management. It is applied to greater or lesser effect by managers and employees, aided, supported and managed by the relationship management expert/s in the company.

But it is far too important to be added to the duties of a marketing director or chief executive. It is far too important not to be managed with good metrics, measures, quality controls and strategy as well and operational planning and execution.

It is the primary corporate process for creating wealth. It is a subject worth returning to.