Monday, April 05, 2010

Where PR has to go

In the groove of where PR has to go to survive, perhaps one might follow the CIPR agenda.
The critical element is public relations as a relationship discipline.

As Bruno Amaral made clear at Bled and Euprera, someone, and it might be (fingers crossed) the PR industry, is now empowered to identify the nature of relationships. His exposition of values based relationship analysis in discourse based on detailed mass observation is as compelling as any.

The PR industry is now in a position to understand how relationships work and can now move on to see how and why reputation works in the creations of value and wealth.

Half a decade ago, I put forward a thesis that we needed to understand how relationships were formed and were changed to be able to move towards relationship management. Bruno has taken this forward and PR theory is now changed. We now have huge amounts of empirical evidence to show, for example that tangible and intangible assets are expressed as the nexus of values and that social entities are attracted to and, from time to time in context, form round values. 

We also now have the machinery needed to identify the values we need.

As the PR industry knows (one hopes), tangible and intangible assets exposed in relationships offer the means of adding money dust: Reputation.

Of course if there is no relationship, there is no opportunity to convert brands, products services, personalities and other intellectual properties and tangibles into money or even wealth.

Organisations, products, brands and people are more highly valued if they have a good reputation. Reputation is the stuff of, and is the sparkling  magic that turns products and services into profit.

This then, is the nature of public relations for many of us.

Arming CIPR members who sit on or advise boards with the capability to hold the hand of directors in other disciplines who want to make their organisations wealthy will demand some pretty powerful corporate services.

In the public sector, voluntary and other areas of practice, being a valued institution through effective relationships capable of developing reputation value to achieve vision and mission is central to government, governance and significance.  Here too there is a need for services to help senior practitioners.

The PR industry will need high-end research, robust discipline and determination to be of any real value. The Institutes' capability should move the wealth creating needle of a nation.  With our new knowledge it does not take a genius or creative guru to see how the PR profession can do this. It does need some focused grounded research.

Now we know about the nature of relationships and have direction for relationship value theory, there is an area of research I call Semantic Public Relations which can identify the value of reputation. I am also of a view that good reputation is the only means by which new wealth can be created. Reputation is the only currency that can be used in such a way that intangibles can be traded at a premium.

I guess these ideas are a step too far for the PR institutions for the nonce. Back to what the industry can do for itself as a small number of us (incidentally, outside the UK academic research institutions – can you imagine 60 PR students arriving at Bournemouth this autumn who will not have any exposure to semantics or semantic research!)  struggle with semantics.

Let’s start with a small ambition. The new Chancellor of the Exchequer and Business Minister might, under some pressure from an active PR institution, have a manifesto commitment to insist that companies whose potential failure would affect the tax payer have a relationship reporting structure. For a PR manager to be legally mandated to report on the nature of corporate relationships to the main board and sector regulator is a very simple clause for the next finance act. The effects could not be further reaching.

Imagine Glaxo's PR team having to report Glaxo’s relationships with User Generated Groups/stakeholders/publics to the senior board and the MHRA (, let’s say, quarterly. As a form of corporate governance, this would be pretty hard. Most corporate managers up to now would find the idea awful, restrictive, uncompetitive, intrusive  da dee da. In truth, it would give the organisation a huge competitive advantage. Global reputation and trust that would sell products ahead of global competitors every time, time after time. For the first time boards would be mandated to have regard for reputation across its whole constituency (and not wrapped up in furry CSR ‘programmes). The simple sanction that a regulator would need is to report to the relevant Minister any company with more than three quarters of deteriorating relationships.

The board would not dare run the kind of risk played out by the banking industry in 2008 of having relationships that would, but for the tax payer, kill off the industry and there would be a powerful early warning system in place.

Yes, PR is that powerful! If only its institutions were capable of thinking such impossible thoughts. In a single move the industry would trump the lobbying moves of the present Government, the FSA attempt at regulation and would make the PR institutions much more valuable in all they did.

Yes, the CIPR needs to look hard at corporate services.

Developing the capability of the PR profession has to recognise the difference between theories of public relations and their evolution, PR strategy management and niche service facilitators.  Simply put, the PR educator, professional blogging agency, conference organiser or press relations agency are critical to the PR industry. They are, however not the industry. There is a case for each of these professional crafts to be recognised. In the same way that tax advisors and cost management consultants are part of the accounting profession so too should, for example, wiki editiors be part of the PR profession and governed by the same advantages and constraints (this you understand coming from a post modernist).

The PR institutions have to go and look at vendor institutions. They are going to be iPhone app developers,  blog list builders and monitoring agencies and a host of others disciplines. In each, there is a skill capability required and an understanding of the wider PR roll is needed by all these specialities.

The Institute needs to be able to help them and to work with the PRCA to develop such capabilities.
Of course, professional development has to move pretty fast to be able to both recognise the significance of these capabilities and recognise their contribution to values explication, relationship development and asset advantage through ethical corporate reputation development.

There is a case for clear recognition and support for specialist activities together with mandating of minimum standards that contribute to the practice of the present, and future, of the industry.

Evolving better practice is not as simple as better CPD. Why should anyone bother to lean about the perfect press release when journalists are making way on 140 characters? I agree, at present there is a tick in a box benefit. Wrong, wrong, wrong!

A simple way of developing better practice is to simply remove CIPR accreditation from all PR courses (internal and external). Two things happen. The Institute has to work out what it is prepared to endorse and why. 

The education agencies (including the universities) have to come up with education solutions that aim at a vision and satisfy a mission for the industry. There is nothing like impending death to concentrate the mind. Oh yes, and I am perfectly aware that it takes years to change the content of a degree course but it is the Universities that are teaching budding PR's how to mark clay tablets. Incidentally, for those universities that imagine PR can be part of something called media studies had better have an improved idea. Media studies can be part of a PR School devoted to creating new wealth -  but not the other way round.

There is a simple challenge here. The PR institutions (not just CIPR) should aim at a direct sector contribution in excess of £15bn in the UK in five years and a sector contribution to the wider economy of at least 5% year on year. If that is what the PR sector is offering, it is worth getting people trained up to do it.

Current reports of a profession with flat growth at a time when the economy needs wealth creating reputation in spades is just rubbish. Poor understanding of the value of PR or poor leadership in a word.

Close proximity with practitioners reveals a very conservative view of the modern economy. Blind faith in the future of control and conquer even in a post Mandelson web age is misplaced.

CIPR policies that imagine that somehow PR management is equal to control are doomed. As governments proscribe the internet in the name of defeating terrorists and pedophiles and equally spurious media hyped nonsense, the alternative protocols will flourish. It is not in the interest of the Institute to stand aside when internet governance is debated. The internet is affective for its communication capacity. PR has a dependence on all forms of communication. It should be part of the communication debate at all points. Equally it should not be part of forcing new protocols to flourish because of idiot political control.

Of course, all this has to be paid for.

The CIPR is typical of many middle ranking professional institutions. It is digging for gold when the money is in selling shovels. The approval license per student across the sector with some added goodies like the free to students peer reviewed research is much less onerous than employment of 20th century PRs to teach 'working with the media'.

The sectors (call that the whole economy) that depend on PR get away with it dead cheap because we are so bad at evaluation. Now we know the significance of  tangible and intangible values combined with constituent’s values in relationship building, we are well on the way to better practice.  Equally we now know the importance of values in reputation building and that reputation has the power to transform tangible and intangible assets (e.g. products and services) into wealth .

We now have theory that stands up to scrutiny about value of PR! Now we need to focus academic research to turn theory into practice. Just like the nation would  (through some mysterious research funding juju) if it wanted to develop a new high yielding milking cow. PR needs some research investment and a good juju stick.

"Dear Next Prime Minister, the political institutions you now represent have a crap reputation. This means they are undervalued. Only PR can change that. The economy you inherited has a bunch of sectors that have reputations that are even worse. Only PR can change that.
This Institute has a clear mission to develop practice, skills and capabilities to grow the sector to £15bn in five years and from 2012 contribute 5% to the economy year on year.
To meet our target, we need to, and will, put a bonfire under a number of departments and institutions and hope you understand the reason for the heat.
In addition there are some policies that run counter to our aim. Network neutrality is a big issue, corporate reporting is a big issue, copyright is a big issue, bandwidth is a big issue and we intend to make our points clearly in order to deliver on our mission.
Sincerely, etc."

"Dear CIPR member, Next Tuesday we are supporting an application by xy university for research funds funds to identify how the profession can add 5% to the economy. You are asked to write to your MP, sign the petition and and turn up as a flash mob on a date yet to be identified when the academics decide on funding.
Yours etc."