Tuesday, July 31, 2007

PR Research Prioreties - the official list?

Tom Watson at Bournemouth University has been trying to find out what the PR industry would like researched most.

He has consulted widely (globally even) and his respondents (all senior people in management and PR) came up with a dozen subjects.

I have some thoughts about where we go based on his findings.

  1. Public relations’ role in contributing to strategic decision-making, strategy development and realisation, and organisational functioning.

The significance of disintermediation, the value of intangible assets, enforced transparency, management of unknowns and porous organisations is not much discussed in PR circles. It will be interesting if this study brings these issues into the debate.

They require a comprehensive understanding of ICT and social media mediated business and economic theory and advanced management tools.

The practitioner who is not able to plan for the unexpected and to manage risk across all the channels for communication (think not just of newspapers and TV but YouTube, Blogs, Facebook, SMS and many more) will leave the company exposed.

Uncertainty and risk management are now essential tools in the PR toolkit to aid stategy management. A range of platforms and channels for communication are tactical tools that just have to be mastered.

The question suggests that PR has a role in contributing but in reality (whether practised by a 'PR person' or, more likely, a CEO), as corporate transparency moves closer to radical transparency (I offer IBM and Microsoft as two companies that have and continue to be subject to such pressures – and which have strategically changed as a result), strategy becomes ever more re-active.

To contribute to strategy we need to improve the management tools used. There is a need for structured risk and opportunity management that can mesh with corporate direction which in turn will inform realisation and contribute to operations.

  1. The value that public relations creates for organisations through building social capital, managing key relationships and realising organisational advantage.

Is there such a thing as 'key relationships' any more? In an era of ubiquitous communication the inter relationships are now networked which means that the value of PR is in its ability to contextualise organisational values in a networked society.

  1. The measurement and evaluation of public relations, both offline and online

Online communication depends on a range of platforms (PC, Cellphone etc.) and a very wide range of channels (blogs, wiki's, podcasts, Facebook, Second Life, Instant Messenger, SMS etc). Just monitoring Social Media is a challenge. Measuring the contribution or effect of 1.1 billion people involved using these platforms and channels in a networked environment and potentially being involved is going to be interesting. The reality is that we live in a very different world to one where social segments (publics, market segments, stakeholders) were identified by PR people and marketers and the mass media held sway.

  1. Public relations as a fundamental management function.

As long as the word 'Relations' has a meaning that involves relationships, then the the fundamental of relationships that are the organisation and the (ever more porous) external relationships that facilitate organisational survival and success, then PR is the premier management function. No relationships – no organisation.

  1. Professional skills in public relations; analysis of the industry’s need for education.

The PR industry let slip the Web 1.0 and XML. It is now fundementaly dependant on both but had little say in its evolution for relationship effectiveness. Web 2.0 is even bigger by comparison in terms of both public relations and communication practice. There is NO relationship without the Internet. The SMS message as one goes into a face to face Ministerial meeting can be critical to its outcome. The skill set we now need has to be better than a 16 year old who can be as effective as Laurie Pycroft who was more effective than all the PR's employed by all the Pharmaceutical companies in retaining their licence to operate in the UK. The new online age empowers anyone to compete with PR practitioners. Does the industry need more by way of education or are practitioners and academics prepared to cede capability to the Internet enabled 'amateur'.

  1. Research into standards of performance among PR professionals; the licensing of practitioners

In an age of Internet Richness, Reach, Transparency, Porosity and Agency backed up with the mass, engaged and capable online population (one in six in the UK), the licence for PR to operate is under more scrutiny than ever before. Our standards are progressively questioned and visibly so.

  1. Management of corporate reputation; measurement of reputation

Reputation is not owned by organisations. The value systems and sticking to the value systems of organisations is now critical for survival of most organisations. As people perceive value systems of an organisation, they will give it its reputation. Is this, as a subject, really about managing value systems? The era of hype, spin and bling is at its last gasp. Calling the ethic of organisations 'reputation' is typical self inflicted PR spin. Some sense of the dissatisfaction with it can be summed up by 100 comments in the last 18 hours about David Cameron's marketing and (ex – journalist managed - publicity (called PR, but obviously not). It never ceases to amaze me that practitioners monitor so little of their organisation's 'reputation'. The 280 YouTube videos about Bournemouth University or the 28,000 about public relations, an interesting view to enlighten the Global Alliance, just show the extent to which every organisation is exposed in a range of social media as well as in more traditional content such as newspapers, TV, radio and blogs. .

  1. Ethics in public relations

Ethics are as good as honesty of management. There will always be weak PR practitioners

  1. Integration of public relations with other communication functions; the scope of public relations practice; discipline boundaries

This is extra-ordinary. In most organisations there are more people who can harness more media than the average PR manager. Most practitioners in the UK do not know how to blog, podcast or even use Facebook. Is this a suggestion that PR practitioners should integrate their activities with these employees? As most marketing and advertising managers are just as far behind. A merger suggests thrice as much ignorance and prejudice.

  1. Management of relationships

While it is something of a misnomer to talk about 'Managing relationships' this is much closer to where PR can go. First of all, there is a need to understand what is meant by relationships. This blog is mostly about the Relationship Value Model, an approach to understanding relationships. I have yet to meet a practitioner who is remotely interested.

  1. Client/employer understanding of public relations

This, presumably, means that someone – um... CIPR, Global Alience, PRCA, IABC....... is prepared to stand up and say that Cameron has no PR just a bling merchant ex- journo massaging the ever less relevant mass media. Or is that too much to ask for.

  1. The impact of technology on public relations practice and theory.

PR as we know it is being disintermediated and at a rate of knots. Anyone can create a message and their message is as good as any a PR person can create. Anyone can distribute a message to 1.1 billion people. If the message has 'legs' it will be change behavious and it does not matter if it comes from a 10 year old in MySpace or 60 year old veteran press agent.

The theory is under severe pressure and the practice as we know it will not be in play in five years.