Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Drucker meets Grunig

Are Grunig's comments about Public Relations being a management function misplaced as far as the United Kingdom is concerned?

Recently elevated to Charter status and claiming to add £3.4 billion to the UK economy, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations claiming to represent the interests of its 8000 members does not seem to have got the message.

The Institute provides a long list of case studies for the delectation of its members through its web site.

Not much of this corpus has the basics that would be recognised by the late Professor Drucker. "As Columbus discovered America, Drucker discovered management" claimed Ken Witty, the producer of the TV documentary of this icon of management. Ambling through the Institutes case studies he would not recognise any of them as contributing to management.

Drucker invented Management By Objectives and, the nearest the CIPR studies comes to acknowledging the great man, many of the studies have 'objectives'.

But none of them follow through. It was Drucker who said Objectives should be SMART:

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Achievable

  • Realistic, and

  • Time-related.

It is here where the case studies fall down.

For the most part, most fail because the objectives are not specific as to what measurable means. In turn they may or may not be achievable or realistic.

The extent to which PR can claim to be a management practice is dependent on its acceptance of management disciplines.

PR, one might see from these case studies, is not manageable and can not be included in the pantheon of management if Drucker is to believed. It was he who said 'If you can't measure it, You can't manage it'.

Peter Drucker pointed out in the 1970s that effectiveness was 'doing right things, while efficiency was doing things right'.

It would seem that PR falls into the first category. As John Naisbitt noted and the CIPR demonstrates "We are drowning in information, but starved for knowledge."

Where PR might start to 'do things right' also comes from Drucker who said “Knowledge is power. In post-capitalism, power comes from transmitting information to make it productive, not hiding it.”

In practice we see individuals and coalitions of people with knowledge. They are not powerful. It is only when knowledge goes through a process that makes knowledge productive. In its communications role, Public Relations facilitates transmission. But it is only when this process has the objective of making knowledge productive that it has any claim as a management process.

If this is true then we might re-asses the CIPR corpus as demonstrating a capability as a management practice.

Making knowledge productive has to be SMART and is a Public Relations process:

  • Specifically to evoke or provoke response to an issue (or issues)

  • Measurably resolving issues between the parties (organisation/ publics)

  • Achieved to the extent of resolving dissonance (and no more)

  • Realistically to the extent that interactive evocation or provocation is optimised (not maximised)

  • Time-related to the extent that knowledge can be evocative or provocative.

Here we can see and measure how relationships can facilitate the transmission of information to make it productive.

In applying such a test to the case studies some of them can be identified as management processes. This is not to excuse the corpus because the SMART elements are not sufficiently explicit.

In applying such a test, one might ask about other mechanisms for measurement. One such would include Return on Investment. There are two elements at work here. One is the immediate return on the process and the other is the long term asset value.

The immediate return is a matter of identifying the value ascribed in meeting the SMART objective (financial or intangible) and the cost of implementation (human resource and facilities applied). It would be simple if the cost of communication and interaction could be identified. Here we have a dilemma. The cost of maintaining, for example, a free media is a difficult assessment and takes us along a path examining the value of cultures and economic infrastructure. Communication in the USA is cheaper than in Africa for both cultural and economic reasons. Closer to home examples include the differing cost of interaction with the elderly or socially or economically deprived.

The asset impact is of significance because the capability to interact with knowledge has undergone a transformation. Here we may see that this capability has enhance the 'knowledge inventory' of an organisation because 'transmitting information to make it productive' can be achieved at a lower human or material cost.

Both the immediate and asset returns can be measured, in part, in financial terms but frequently this is only part of the story. The intangible value is often very different.

True ROI measures are hard to come by.

There is another way. Public Relations is a cultural activity. The influence of every PR campaign has an effect on culture. But this is for another day.

Picture: The Instruments of Knowledge 1994, Oil on canvas, 66 x 84 cm, Sydney, Private collection Ralph Heimans