Thursday, December 08, 2005

Aha! Neville Hobson, you asked how I square my views on PR with membership of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations' definition. Well, luckily, I have already covered this in a previous post.

I still hold that PR levers wealth and explain here....

The debate about public relations being about relationships and relationship management is even more important and goes back 30 years. There are a couple of problems about how to define an organisation and how to define relationships.

In exploring these concepts we discover that there are values involved and that these values are the stuff of relationships and are the means by which organisations can exist. The research also shows how organisations are not really a hierarchy (management pyramid) but are made up of groups of people with (to a greater or lesser degree) convergent interests.

Public relations in its role of facilitating relationships allows values to be exchanged and built upon.

But let me take you into a lecture theatre with a couple of hundred people in the audience.

In trying to explain relationships I take two exquisite roses with me and a $50 note and after some initial comments hand out one rose to a pretty girl half way up the auditorium.

What I have done is to create a relationship with the pretty girl. She blushes. But why?

All I have done is give here a rose, a token.

But she attaches a whole lot of values to a rose. It is symbol of romance and has all manner of connotations. The relationship, fleetingly, blossoms.

The audience looks on and each of them in turn attaches values to the rose and observe the exchange and using their interpretation of this action come up with a whole range of conjecture about this turn of events.

I then introduce my wife who is sitting at the front and give her the other rose and she to has a number of values she attributes to the rose and in this circumstance the rose represents atonement. Of course, at another time and in different circumstances, a rose could represent a moment of great romanticism, but not on this occasion.

I then take the $50 bill. It would buy 20 roses. I give it to another pretty girl... Not surprisingly she takes offence and refuses to accept the money.

Relationships are created in an environment (channel if you will) using the exchange of tokens and where there are common values and common understanding of those values, relationships can blossom.

This is the job of public relations. It entails understanding the environment, identifying tokens that have common values and offering those tokens to create relationships from which new values can spring.

And, to put all of this into context, the rose I take into the lecture theatre is really just a dead stick. It is our culture that gives us all the values we attach to a rose.

So relationships are important and so is the cultural context. Relationships both create organisations and provide the environment, culture and context for survival.

We see expressions of brand values change and morph in the bloshphere just as much, if not more so than the lecture theatre. It happens all the time but always in context. Indeed the fulsome hyper-linking of the bloggersphere and the dynamic of wiki's are the classic case of culture and context building. In these cultures value is being created and even money (which is only a metaphor for value) is being made.

PR at its best is multi-touch. It is evidenced in coverage on TV, radio, the press, magazines, web sites, blogs, wiki's, podcasts and mobile communication and at the water cooler. By enjoining conversations in these channels and by being in tune with the culture of our publics through relevant channels we influence the values held by them and progressively create relationships that shape opinion and values.

Just look at how this works in the connected world. We seek information and build links between the people who provide it for us. In blogging we do it with blogrols; hyperlinks and engagement.

But.... unlike most people, the best practitioners have, or know people who can, identify the stakeholders, the objectives, the strategies and tactics most applicable to gain positive outcomes. We use the boutiques to help implementation and we monitor our effectiveness.

Practiced at its best, this is a management discipline. It is the only management discipline that is optimised to do all these things. Accountants can't do this, advertisers can only work on the fringes, the marketer has to narrower view. Human resource managers are hidebound by the (these days fractioning – remember Neville Hobson's comments about BA food in his recent podcast?) walls of the organisation. It is only public relations that has the breadth of understanding and skill that can do all that is needed.

So we can work in the cultures and among the publics to engage them in development of their values and appreciation of our point of view effectively and with better results than all other management disciplines.

We create the space where value can accrue and offer the knowledge by which value can be acquired.

Now... I accept that this is a utopian view of PR as practiced. It is far wider than most common practice – much of which is boutique work like media relations - but it is public relations.

I hope I have been more convincing about PR levering wealth. It is a bold jump for the profession but one that is well worth making.

Neville added another comment and said this “touches on the reputation of PR in eyes of others and we don't get support from outside the profession for the view.” Well, more fool us.

He suggested that we loose our licence at a time when 'anyone can communicate' and the adder of value is dispersed. But more fool us for not developing and using capability to influence the agenda.

I agreed that the 'change required in PR isn't inevitable. Because it is up to the practitioners to be part of the change otherwise they will be irrelevant and therefore cannot add value.'

But what is in a name? If the PR industry does not do it, someone will and if not us then more fool us.

So, I hold by my precept that public relations is the management practice that levers wealth. And, potentially is the only such practice available to do so.

I will say this: it is only now, with the engagement that has become so evident because of blogs and wiki's that this idea can have traction.

Our era of global engagement is the one that provides the evidence that engagement through relationships add value. It allows us to see how intangible relationships and intangible assets open the way for companies to design, develop make and sell goods and services and make profits.

We can be, if we choose to be, at the heart of this process.

Else we are but fools.

Picture: “The fool doth think himself wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” As You Like It Shakespeare