Thursday, January 17, 2013

The most internet based economy. The most internet based PR sector?

Last month a British Government Cabinet Papers declared 'The UK has been proclaimed as the ‘most internet-based major economy’. 

Comet, HMV, Jessops, Blockbusters et al have been influenced by it for sure (a more balanced view is given by Cliff D'Arcy)  and by 2016, predicts the Boston Consulting Group, 23% of UK retail sales will be made online, bringing in total revenues of some £144.6bn. So, not one-in-ten shops on the high street closed but one-in-four!

Is the PR industry ready to support this evolution?

I teach a student who, in her last year at university, has started a PR business specialising in the use of Facebook by the medical profession. She is doing very well already.

Their are a number of interesting aspects to this approach.
  • It is media and sector specific.
  • It is entrepreneurial.
  • It will be a great resource for the medical industry and the PR and marketing agencies that support the medical professions and its supply chain.

In addition  she is able to use her dissertation to create a knowledge base about global best practice in the use of Facebook PR and marketing  and, thereby gaining considerable academic support in her quest for excellence.

In the first week of the New Year, I was invited to assist a consultancy to enhance its digital offering  It has a strong presence in the tourism sector and was a bit taken aback when I suggested that a most powerful media it could use was Google Maps. It had not considered Google Maps as a medium! It did not have such specialist expertise and thought it would have to buy it in.

I do not know of a boutique agency that specialises in Google Maps PR (I know how because I can mash-up Facebook, Twitter and this in a PR campaign - not many people know this).

Gartner predicts that that the number of apps downloaded is set to rocket from 45 billion in 2012 to a staggering 305 billion downloads in 2016. I wonder how many PR App makers there are?

This got me thinking.

There is a massive shortage of digital skills available to the PR industry.

Efforts by the PR sector over a decade and a half have still not created the skills base needed to support those industries that do not want to follow the high street crash of January 2013.

It is time for the PR industry to be pro-active and creative in addressing the problem and to build an education, training and skills base that will put it on a stronger footing.

The big issue we face is that there is a huge range of platforms and channels. From tablets to Google Maps the mix and match of media is very wide.

No in-house team nor agency (even the very biggest) has the breadth of expertise needed to meet the diverse skills needs of our client base. Few can even offer comprehensive client consultancy.

However, there is a very strong case for encouraging the development of a boutique sector to provide support for the industry as and when it needs capability and capacity.

It is in the interests of all in-house and agency businesses to support such developments and to buy them in as and when required.

Certainly, in the next three years the internet will change businesses that provide PR incomes and it is time to invest in creating the support infrastructure that will be needed in that time frame.

There is another requirement that the PR industry has face.

The PR sector supported education structures are weak when it comes to training and education.

Many of the CIPR endorsed degree courses do not teach some of the basic elements of online public relations (in many cases these universities do not even have the appropriate books in sufficient quantities for first degree courses in their libraries!).

There is a need to create the incentive for such institutions to get up to date and build the education and training needed by the PR sector.

For an organisation like the CIPR, help is at hand. At long last the government has created funds to support initiatives designed to build capabilities in the online sphere. If the institute wanted to take on such an initiative, it would find that it would be funded and it could signpost funding for its members, including funding for further academic education  (there is even a case for having a specialist advisor for members).

What might an institution such as the CIPR do?
What might the Universities with PR degree courses do?

For the sake of us, the practitioners, there is a case for the CIPR and PRCA to bury the hatchet and tackle the big issues again.

  • Support research in Universities (I know, a complete novelty for most of the universities that CIPR and PRCA support but things can change). Penalise those that do no research for the PR industry but pretend to teach it.
  • Support undergraduates and graduates starting niche businesses at the edge of what we know.
  • Don't be frightened of niche
  • Upgrade communication among practitioners about what the internet is doing to the economy, communications, relationship management and society (the rate of change is getting faster according to the experts).
  • Stop being po-faced about recommending expertise - shout it out loud!
  • Do not do nothing 
  • Do not believe what you are already doing is enough - exponential rate of change is does not stand still.

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