Friday, November 04, 2005

Future PR? Not!

From a link in Richard Bailey's Blog, I note that Brendan Hogan offers his view of public relations in 2030 here. In addition there are comments by Mike Manuel about a different set of PR rules. Mike is quite sensible but Brendan is way off the mark and I disagree with him on almost all counts.

Here is my annotated rant and response.

1 We will offer clients a "Consumer-Generated" media relations offering in addition to, and in conjunction with, our traditional "Mainstream" media relations services. Will they ever be completely integrated?

Inter-reaction between organisations and people will be quite granular, will be timed to deliver at an optimum moment relevant content through a range of channels. The difference between research and evaluation will have vanished (and practitioners will need to keep up with trends) because the top brands will want near instant response to changes of interest and mood among consumers. Basically, when the consumer is in the mood, the message will have to be there and the means by which the consumer responds will have to be in place (we may be using a form of Social Frames) This will require that in-house or agency people will uses a wide range of people working a in wide range of practice (domains of practice).This multitouch PR will need to be very responsive.

In 2030 the print media will be much closer to home. It will be much smaller. It will lever its emotional link with consumers. It will have shed a lot of the overhead it can't sustain like advertising departments (most print advertising will be delivered against demographics through on-line purchasing – an extension of Google's adsense). Editorial deadlines will vanish and print will be an extension of online content as opposed to online being an extension of print. There is no case for print alone – except as brochureware and bookish tracts - enter the 3000 word 'press release' story to read on the underground (subway if you live in New York).

2 As is already happening in other parts of the network, our service lines will become increasingly specialized on niche audiences and industries -- broadcasting to narrowcasting -- GLBT, Seniors, Youth, Ethnic, Obese, Aboriginal, etc.

This is very old think. Its the old (and devalued) advertising model. Niche audiences as broad as suggested will turn consumers off. The evolving gold standard public relations process acts on the mind of publics by explicating the context in which the world we 'see' is recognisable (“marked”) so that the internal self can recognise, evaluate and relate to the PR objective. Our audiences will reflect the commonality of interests to optimise return.

3 Whereas the Economist recently identified employees as "unintended guardians of the brand", in 2030 employees -- and increasingly customers -- will be the brand, and will need to be cultivated as such.

The whole notion of brand management has to undergo a revolution. The existing models are far to fixed in the stakeholder model. This rigid thinking is not of the networked society and by that I do not mean just electronically networked. I mean the society living in a weightless economy. Rigid corporate models are dangerous. This idea of hierarchical structures has to be re-evaluated by the PR industry. It is already being left behind in this regard.

4 We will be able to accurately measure the impact of our activities on the bottom line

So What! The bottom line is not even the objective of management. Wealth creation is much more significant. Without the creation, sustenance and increase of wealth at the core of organisational activity, the bottom line is irrelevant. I can guess that a lot of PR will be aimed at narrow objectives but this will have to be predicated on a higher model of practice. The value of relationships is pretty powerful stuff in a weightless economy.

5 Non-financial drivers (reputation and brand, management experience, governance policies etc.) will overtake financial drivers as determinants of a corporation's "value".

Almost there. Lets start with the idea that without relationship management there is no brand. So, the big driver is relationships. Relationship management is an opportunity for PR if it is to be more than agentry. Brendan's ideas are not nearly thought through otherwise his earlier comments would be seen as the house of cards it is. To start with, it may be an idea to understand that reputation is a manifestation of value not the other way round (and here is an example of what I mean).

6 We will consult regularly into the c-suite as that is where our clients will sit -- as chief reputation officers, chief marketing officers and chief communications officers.

Only if PR is interested in its value creating role will it deserve a place in the c-suite. Otherwise, its practitioners will be in the waiting room while the big decisions are made in the board room. I see hear and smell functionary in this statement. Perhaps this is where consultants want to position themselves but the real PR is not kicking its heals in the corridor.

7 "Change Communications" will simply become "Communications" because change, to abuse an over-used euphemism, will be the only constant (yeah, kick me).

PR is not about communications. Communications is very important but relationships and relationship change (the fundamental of wealth creation) is not wholly reliant on communication. Change communication is an oxymoron because the real need is to change the value of relationships. Treating the symptoms meant that this was always an 'ism' dreamed up in an idle moment by an out of work publicist.

8 We will always be "on" -- increasingly having to react and respond to events happening at any time, anywhere in the world -- whether in Toronto, Saskatoon, or Mumbai. Traditional press cycles and time-lags will be a thing of the past.

Note the future tense. What we need to know is that the memories our work leaves behind are always on. The impact of globalisation is with us now and monitoring and evaluation are critical, have to be real time and actioned upon.

9 We will be cultivating conversations and two-way dialogs, not simply one-way interactions.

What a nice simple idea. Will dialogue will be enough? Even now it is not enough. There is a need for engagement which means that public relations will be as much about changing organisations as engaging the public sphere. How much will public relations be involved in changing organisations in 2030?

Some, in PR, claim "global teams dedicated to providing useful intelligence and insights by harnessing the latest in technology and research". However, they are still able to be seen to offer ill thought through ideas about the future that miss nearly all the major changes needed in a society that is networked, global and facing the issues surrounding a need to understand personal, social and cultural differences and needs.

The lessons of global terrorism and New Orleans depravation show how much we need to understand, interact, respond and change at the highest level to ensure the peace, properisty and value creation we all desire. If, in the next 25 years we do not see what is unleashed by globalisation at both micro and macro level, a new dark age is already here. That goes for PR practice more than any other area of endevour.

Picture: Neanderthals British Museum