Growing professionalism in Portugal, still to be accomplished the shift for the social media / relationship management paradigm

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I asked a couple of friends to share their thoughts about the year 2008 for Portuguese PR. The sector is growing firmly despite of the economic context. Important steps towards professionalism have been given with new courses being offered at the post graduate level, and the recent publication of the Code of Professional Conduct by the Portuguese Association of Business Communication is a landmark.

The PR 2.0 challenge

Perhaps the most important idea which emerged from my colleagues working professionally in-house and in agencies, as well as from educators and students is that the use of web 2.0 by Portuguese PR is still delayed. Both agencies and clients in my informal survey seem to agree that “clients are not very prone to innovate” and that many still “tend to distrust what they don’t know and therefore choose traditional approaches” rather than innovative ones. Maybe we should echo Richard Edelman’s quote in a Technorati study about the state of the art in blogging: “Blogs represent the best chance for companies to inform the conversation”.

Indeed, in 2008, blogs about PR in Portugal have grown significantly, specially because many PR agencies started to create their own blogs. Nevertheless, as a friend blogger wrote “dialogue has been more often between PR agencies rather than between these and their clients” and that “there is not yet a clear understanding of the concept of online dialogue” – a recent case involved two of the major agencies in Portugal in an interesting discussion motivated by a request from one of the agencies to be removed from a page (created by the other agency) to monitor major PR blogs in Portugal. The challenge to avoid overuse of blogs (and other social media) for marketing communication and explore their potential to listen and inform is perhaps still the big challenge for next year.

Growing professionalism & other drivers for 2009

A major step towards the institutionalisation of PR in Portugal was the recent publication of the professional code of conduct for the practice of Public Relations by the Portuguese Association of Business Communication.  Adding to this, a growing number of Master degrees in Public Relations and related areas are expected to contribute to a cultural transformation. In fact, as some of my interviewees argued “until recently, there was a clear majority of ex-journalist. Nowadays the situation has changed revealing a view of PR not just as media relations, and  emphasizing the value of creativity, strategy, integrated plans, etc”.

But the professional community in Portugal will have to deal with specific trends in 2009, of which my panel of interviewees highlighted:

1. Internal communication. The external economic and financial pressures and the need to explain the different impacts of the context to employees; the challenge to keep employees engaged in the corporate strategy; the growing potential for mergers and acquisitions; the challenges of change culture processes and the implementation of excellence projects are some of the reasons why Portuguese companies are not expected to reduce investment in this area.

2. Measurement and evaluation of PR. This seems to be an important issue in the agenda for 2009 and was referred to me as “the next step for the legitimisation of the PR field to guarantee an effective role as a management function”. Special attention should be given to the conversion of PR results in relevant and comprehensible indicators for the accomplishment of business strategy.

3. Crisis communication. In the current scenario this is one of the areas which are expected to grow, not just because companies are going through difficult times but also because of aggressive marketing communication. A very interesting case happened when a well-known Portuguese company placed on you tube the video of a guerrilla marketing action. But this action was copied from another one, previously organised by a group specialised in creating “scenes of caos and joy in public spaces”, but without acknowledging it. When the issue emerged in the blogosphere first and afterwards also on traditional media, the reaction of the company was not a straightforward disclosure and apologize. It attempted to close and remove the video from youtube, delete postings made at its own blog and avoid engaging in direct conversation about the issue. As these alternative forms of marketing communication are expected to grow in the upcoming turbulent times, specific PR counsel in these type of situations might be a trend.

4. Political communication and public affairs. The social transformation and the economic downturn are requiring different approaches to policy making and certainly the accumulated experience of PR will be required to help deal with this. In Portugal the debate for the institutionalisation of lobby has not advanced significantly since last year’s failed attempts from two PR agencies to have national parliament (Assembly of the Republic)  review its regulation to allow PR professionals to access the parliament in the same terms as journalists. The request was denied because of “juridical reasons”. According to President of the Assembly, journalists have a deontological code and their profession is recognized by the constitution whereas communication and PR agencies are commercial organisations which aim to access the parliament to influence the legislative process. However, in 2008, Martins Lampreia who has been leading for years the debate on the institutionalisation of lobby in Potugal and on a better use by Portuguese companies, has launched a new book on “Lobby in the European Union”. Let’s hope this trend for 2009 will help in growing a new interest for this area.

Are these trends different from the trends in your part of the world? Leave us here your thoughts and comments. Merry Christmas.

1 COMMENT

  1. João – very interesting and I wonder how many of the trends for 2009 you listed will be influenced by the PR 2.0 challenge that you also discussed. Your crisis example clearly shows the need for greater understanding of the online medium at the least to avoid such errors in judgement.

    Similarly, the move towards professionalism has to include ensuring greater understanding of key influencers such as politicians about the benefits of PR. However, without professional ethics, can the politicians be blamed for wanting to keep out the worst practices of PR?

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