Monday, May 08, 2006

The digital tsunami and Public Relations

A quarter of Gross Domestic Product growth within the EU and 40% of productivity growth can be ascribed to Information and Communications Technologies (ICT).

This means that, once one puts aside primary industries like agriculture, extraction industries such as coal and aggregates, nearly all the important activity in our economy is based on intellectual properties.

The Public Relations industry has to be a participant in ICT if it want to be a part of this growth an productivity improvement.

I gave a definition of Public Relations that adapts from Edward B. Tylor's definition of culture. Of course from a Durkeim perspective there are some interesting variants (which, I would suggest are at odds with the idea that we are different people in different contexts – a more modern, psychological perspective).

This approach is not new. The European Commission set up the Forum in 1995 in order to create a new and authoritative source of reflection, debate and advice on the challenges of the Information Society. The Information Society, it concluded, could give birth to a Second Renaissance, with a new flowering of creativity, scientific discovery, cultural development and community growth. The elements that are specific to Public Relations being creativity, cultural development and community growth. The Commission also chose Taylor's view culture and its significance to exploring the new Renaissance. In our interactive commons, it may be time to review those findings to aid Public Relations facing the Information and Communications Technology tsunami.

In such turmoil we have to find an overarching description of a practice that has many domains in order that we can take a long view and can strategically address the changes we face.

In a recent exchange on Richard Bailey's blog there was a discussion about marketing communications and Corporate PR. My view is that Public Relations is now far too important to be associated with Marketing. The debate is about the future of Marketing and the role of Marketing Communications (e.g. PR) in the so called 'marketing mix'.

My point was that if we define marketing PR, we have to define marketing. Every definition to-date has been overtaken by events. Even marketing itself has been disintermediated.

Being associated with a management fad that is about to be torn to bits is plain silly. There is a role for market relationship promotion (MRP) but that is not the same as marcoms.

I then went on to say:

If all other than marcoms PR is Corporate PR we have to define what an organisation is. If, as I propose it is a nexus of relationships, then PR is a very broad and flexible kirk indeed.

What Amazon did to W H Smith and Dell did for the PC is the thin end of the wedge. We now have true online banks that disintermediate traditional banking (Lending and Borrowing), disintermediated telcos (now that we can get broadband as WiMax and cellular bandwith) an so on. The pace of change is fast and getting faster.

The nexus of relationships is truly powerful. Marketing and so called 'marketing PR' just gets swept aside in digital the tsunami. The conversation wins.

This means we have to be much more robust in describing what Public Relations really is.

One can see the evolution in the debate about what we do and what we can do in two recently published academic papers:

In 'Furnishing the Edifice': Ongoing Research on Public Relations As a Strategic Management Function (Journal of Public Relations Research, 2006, Vol. 18, No. 2, Pages 151-176), James E. Grunig moves in this direction a long way and I take it further in my paper “Towards relationship management: Public relations at the core of organisational development” (Journal of Communication Management ISSN: 1363-254X Volume: 10 Issue: 2 pp – 226).

These papers are evidence of work that is months old. But the change too rapid to wait for responses in academia. I no longer believe that we have time to wait for academic journals to provide the academic underpinning needed.

Picture: Digital Tsunami


  1. Anonymous2:30 am

    Yes, I certainly agree with all your points. The Internet has provided many changes to every industry, especially with PR and marketing. Now the two may serve well in web communications if they are integrated and this means that there is actual change in their role. Even the existing meanings for marketing and PR would not be sufficient to supply or describe the changes in their roles.

  2. Anonymous7:27 am

    I enjoyed this post: David as 'angry young man'. But your role is as a prophet, leading us to a promised land.

    It's funny: in my view, you're the academic (you read academic papers, you WRITE academic papers, you have academic thoughts). I'm just me. It's a mistake to hold me up as 'academia' just because there are so few other PR educators who blog.