Sunday, May 14, 2006

Chartered Institute of Public Relations.... Get it! Go for it!

It can be said that in the week that the President of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations begins to blog (well that was the rumoured plan last week), The Chartered Institute seems to be slipping backwards with its ICT efforts.

A President's blog is window dressing unless there is a lot more substance behind it. In other words it will be spin in its less welcome definition. I hope I am wrong.

Right now, I am underwhelmed by its response to developments in new media. It has not read its own publications on
what the Internet means for PR which has languished in the cellar for five years.

There is no apparent strategy, no initiative and a brick wall response when it comes to offering help.

It is not that the CIPR is not busy, active and doing a tremendous job. It is. My concern is that it is (and for a long time has been) ignoring the significance of Information and Communications Technologies and especially Social Media.

The CIPR initiatives so far extend to a course for members on 'the use of words in e-mail, the Internet or intranet because communicators and public relations practitioners need to be able to maximise their command of that use.' (absolute promise – that is what the CIPR site says – check it out!); The Diploma does not include ICT/New Media at all; Not a single CPD mentor is a blogger, podcaster or has a Usenet post (and few are well known for their use of technology); None of the CIPR trainers has a blog. Many do not have a web presence. The contributions about the Internet from expert members is little heeded by the Institute (e.g Louise Sibley's comments of a couple of years ago).

As the Chair of the 1999 PR Commission into the significance of ICT for PR and as the author of the CIPR's recommended book on the subject,
On-line Public Relations', I feel that, when it comes to using communications tools especially the ubiquitous press release the fluffy bunny tendency has a significant hold. This view is, I suspect, supported by a number of elder statesmen who, while enjoying the clubland feel the swanky new headquarters building in St. James's Square, do not see the media much further than the Tatler. With a glass of port in one hand, one envisage them reading this week's feature about actress Sophia Myles who is, writes columnist Sebastian Shakespeare, "More a spag bol and Guinness kinda girl than your usual star."

Compared this with the up-beat enthusiastic and enquiring professionals with an interest in all that is New Media at

Philip Young's conference and the contrast could not be greater. One notes that a video/podcast and comment about this event is already is available online using new media (and a little Web.2.0) – a classic example of New Communication at work (well done Neville).

Click here to Watch London: the Movie.

While it seems, the CIPR is ignoring ICT/New Media, practitioners are really up for it. So too are publics.

The CIPR must have noticed that between Phillip Young and Haymarket over 700 communicators have paid big fees to go to 'New Media' conferences this year. That is equivalent to nearly TEN percent of the membership of the Institute. Perhaps some of the delegates may not be members. One might enquire why? This is not going away.

A glance at the in-house vacancies on the

CIPR recruitment pages shows how important New Media ICT is. While one does not expect the PR consultancies to be expert in Social Media (this is normally the role of specialists like Stuart Bruce), the in-house practitioner is now expected to have expertise (see the requirements of a sample on the CIPR site below). Without it, job prospects decline and judging by the current list of vacancies advertised through the Institute, more than 50% of in-house vacancies advertised require ICT PR skills.

The critical issue for the Institute is that if it is not relevant to the communications competencies, needs and skills its members need, it will loose members' interest. Membership churn will exceed 12% pa, a critical number for all voluntary organisations.

So what is involved?

CIPR Members' clients have a number of persona and the one that is new (since 1995) is only found in cyberspace. It is different to anything past. To begin with it is durable, the Internet never forgets. It includes all that went before and is a mashup of fact fiction, reputation, and reality. It is mediated by Internet technologies through direct and indirect influence and the impact of events. A broad range of stakeholders extending well beyond competitors, vendors and other publics, directly and through association, but always, eventually (and without exception), are at work re-casting the corporate or product brand on-line.

Today, when the world's population seeks an organisation, it appears with a particular slant. It is a slant devised and presented, not by a person, newspaper or human community but by a search engine algorithm.

The bottom line is this: There is an image of organisations that is and resides in cyberspace. It is not the same, real, organisation CIPR members know. But to most people, this cyber organisation is the reality of what the organisation is. The reality, for most people, is a cyber-mirage.

What then is the role of the PR practitioner? Is it to bring about convergence between the digital mirage and the real? Is it to bring about a common truth between the online and the actual?

Just understanding what is at stake requires professional help, help to members who can then help their clients. The alternative is to let Member's organisations become as real and as surreal as a Playstation or Xbox game.

Is that good enough? Is it sustainable? How should or could it be managed? Can that be ethical? What research is available to aid practitioners?? The on-line Member's skills to bring this about are prodigious. Can the Institute develop member skills? Can it do it fast enough? How can the professional communications institutions respond in the interest of practitioners? Are such organisations different to the established (and Chartered) organisations?

I hope these are the questions that are vexing the Chartered Institute of Public Relations.
As the AGM nears, will Lionel Zetter (click here to see his significance in the bloggersphere) be up to this, the biggest issue in PR over the coming year?

In-house jobs require ICT skills – of the in-house jobs advertised on the CIPR web site today, more than half require ICT skills including:

- knowledge of the full communications mix, particularly in terms of employee communication channels and tools.
- expect you to manage the logistics needed to deliver communication activities such as webcasts, web chats and meetings as well as coordinating their delivery
- provide online PR for our client base and we are looking for an experienced PR to help start it.
external communications include dealing with external media, updating of the company website.

'More a spag bol and Guinness kinda girl than your usual PR' Sophia Myles on the front page of the Tatler