Confusion, confusion….in my mind. Here is some food for thought. Let’s discuss.

These last two weeks have gone by with no posts on this-here blog. The real truth is that I have been ‘engulfed and devoured’ by the social media issue in real life…Two full days of training with my professional colleagues from Ferpi, the Italian association, in Rome and Milano; two full days in Ghent (Belgium) listening to the more than twenty presentations at the Euroblog 2007 symposium organised by Euprera, the European association of public relations educators and scholars; plus endless emails, mobile calls and conversations…

So I really feel saturated, to the point that I prefer to take a break, ruminate and hope that whatever I was able to learn and pick up, will suddenly drip down to a few focussed items to touch on such as:

can we still sustain the statement that public relations is a management function (or as some prefer to say, a function of management)? What do we mean by the term management? Can we really manage communication, relationships, reputation in this new environment? And this leads us to ask ourselves, have we really been capable of doing this in the past, or wasn’t it mostly much hype?

can we still claim that public relations is effective when an organization abides to the traditional and consolidated one company-one voice paradigm? Or has the growing convergence between the concepts of diversity and social media shattered this widely held belief in our professional community?

if we adopt a communicating-with approach, in line with the two-way tendentially symmetric model of public relations, are we still trying to shift from a top-down to a bottom-up linear phase or are we not really fostering, as Philip Young suggested in his closing remarks in Ghent, a left-to-right-to left-to right-to left…process? And by the way Philip, if both are still a linear processes… where do you see the theoretical discontinuity between what you defined as a modality of ceding power to obtain a more balanced relationship (the Grunig view) versus the aggregation of what you defined themed conversation (your ‘new pr view’)?  and finally

d° is the combination of these three more immediate takeaway thoughts I cumulated in the back of my mind in these last two weeks, leading us to a radically different model of practice which involves much rethinking?

Ah, confusion, confusion…. Will be back soon I hope, once I have recovered the little rationality I have been able to store away for difficult moments…

Please follow our blog:

4 Replies to “Confusion, confusion….in my mind. Here is some food for thought. Let’s discuss.

  1. Years ago, someone coined the phrase — at least the first time I heard it — reputation mangement.

    I quite liked it then, and still do.

    But it’s all semantics. Just how carefully does one parse a word or phrase, and how carefully does one make sure the next person agrees with the definition or, at a minimum, may disagree but at least unders the original definition.

    I’m perfectly willing to say that I managed Northern Telecom’s reputation, or CNCP Telecommunications’ reputation, or that I am now managing Taylor’d Bagels reputation.

    Other people, in other departments, participated inmanaging the reputations, too, of course.

    But it was the whole PR, Public Affairs and Corporate Realtions departments at Northern Telecom, including the holding company, the operating companies in the USA, Canada, and elsewhere, who had a huge amount of responsibility.

    And we had management plans. We had several overall missions, defining mission in a way that all of us in the department agreed on, we had budgets to apply to fulfilling the mission, we had responsibility for fulfilling the missions, and we had authority.

    When I was at Northern Telecom, in various combinations, I was repsonsibile for PR in half of Canada for the company’s manufacturing and sales-reated operations. There were provinces that were “mine” and manufacturing plants that were “mine” and product lines that were “mine.” Similarly, the one or two other PR directors in Canada had “their” plants and provinces, and products. Adn we had to synchronize ourselves — that’s management, too. i.e. I was responsible for telephones as a product because the telephone division headquarters was in my territory. But John Benet was PR Director, Atlantic Canada, and there was a branch telephone plant in his territory, and there were customers buying telephones in his territory.

    Anything having to do with PR in our territory was our responsibility to manage. Again, I’m happy to use the world “managege” at least in the ways we understood it. If the telephone factory wanted to layoff employees, that was its decision. But how we told the public we were doing it, and how we told the media — it was always a story in the media, across Canada, when we laid off employees at the main telephone factory in the Ontario city of London — was my responsibility, including insructing the approproiate vice-pressident in the whys andhows and whats of being proactive or reactive to reporters.

    In the corporate ranks, a VP outranked a director; in the reality of media relations for a layoff in a telephone plant, I outranked the VP.

    Why did I have this power? Because the CEO gave authority for all PR to the Executive Vice-President Corporate Relations, and he in turn gave it to me. Seems to me I can use the word “management” here, too.

    Managers try to control things, but smart ones try to control things within parameters, and with a real-world understanding of what is possible, and what is likely, and what is the minimum acceptable.

    My partner and I have spent the morning working on a three-pager she’s taking to a client this afternoon. The client’s client wants publicity about a court decision. We know we can get publicity. But what we do not know is just what direction will the coverage take. I think it is highly possible (but I can’t quantify “highly possible”) the mainstream media won’t focus on the decision but will instead pay a lot of attention to the legal fees involved, and the “where there’s smoke their’s fire” view, and the “why did you not solve the problem earlier” view. So, we’re “managing” this situation by holding a meeting with the client laying out the range of possibilities.

    Seems like management to me.

    For years, I’ve felt that there are a lot of quasi-academics, and genuine academics, who have their own dictionary, and no real world experience.

    At Northern Telecom, we were a firm believer in “no surprises.”

    Again, “management.”

    Right now, we have a huge animal crisis in Canada — dogs and cats dying, probably because some pet food company got tainted ingredients from its supplier.

    The company has shut up and is in hiding — some idiot PR person thinks this is “managing” the media. It’sstupid, wring practically and wrong morally, and it’s a failure. So, in this case, it’s impossible to “manage the media.”

    But if anyone wants to talk about “managing” anything, they need to be bright enough tounderstand that there’s excellent management, awful management, and everything in betweeen.


  2. Brian,
    your response to the first of the varous issues which are presently ‘bugging’ me implies, as you say, that
    quote PR is a management function — when PR is done right, which is not all of the time — in the sense that the senior PR person should be a member of the senior management group of an organization, and the organization’s public rleations plan or program for many months to come is as much a executive-approved plan or program as any other department unquote.
    I have no quarrel over this and you might even remember that, in a previous post in this blog, Peter Walker called on Mary Parker Follet who, in the early 20th century, described management as ‘the art of getting things done through people’.
    This said, what do you think of the use in our day-to-day pr jargon of terms such as the management of publics, of reputation, of communication….?
    Somehow I think that one does not, can not and should not manage either publics, reputation or communication… and that at least one of the many elements which converge into creating false opinions of what we actually do every day in other peoples minds (including our own community and our influential publics) is the cockiness with which we, even inadvertently, argue these push, superficial and spin based arguments.
    Your opinion?

  3. For those curious about the anti-union seminar… it turned out than many of the people at the session would have liked being in a union.

    Among other reasons, it turns out that a union would organize promotions based on seniority and it the case of Northern Telecom back then, a whole lot of younger employees joined the company and jumped over the older, more experienced, people. Lots of 50 year old telecom experts with twenty five years experience were b eing bossed around by 30 year old who, in many cases, had no telecom experience.

    In the PR department, there had only been one PR person, John Benet, when the company caught on that it needed to be transformed. A new senior vice president, corporte communications was hired, reporting to the CEO, and John Reported to him, happily. Lots more of us came into the firm over the next two or three years (perhaps six director level people and another half dozen manager-level, plus support staff) and until perhaps six years later when a couple of losers were hired as VPs, we were happy enough because we did not have know-little bosses.

    Northern Telecom evoleved into Nortel Networks, but not until all of the original PR group had left, except for one of the aforementioned losers.


  4. First, I’m glad you are well. I was getting worried.

    Second, all this theory and mumbo humbo is a waste of time, but may be a good way for high level PR people to get nice trips to interesting places. IABC’s trying something similar, getting in bed with ISO to spend years talking about things that barely matter. (In IABC’s case, it is Corporate Social Responsibility — a concept that matters but one that can’t be organized to a set os pseudo-scientific standards.

    MANAGEMENT — since my own definition of PR inclues a phrase about being a management function, and since my busienss tag-line is “Communicatins-Based Management Counsel” it’s probably pretty clear I think PR and Management are closely connected.

    But sometimers in the Tonisblog threads I see a desire for simplicaity combined with fancy language that makes it look like some of your contributors have never actually done PR.

    PR is a management function — when PR is done right, which is not all of the time — in the sense that the senior PR person should be a member of the senior management group of an organization, and the organization’s public rleations plan or program for many months to come is as much a executive-approved plan or program as any other department.

    And of course some other people in the PR department are not “management” or if they are, they are departmental management, running people within the PR department. And, depending on the size of the organization, other PR people can be “management” in the sense that they can legally commit the organization to take some action, or stop taking some action, or spend money.

    We are in the age of the Imperial CEO, but that still does not mean that other executives, and lower level managers that don’t fit the “executive” category, still have power and authority.

    ASIDE — years ago, when I was an employee of Northern Telecom Canada Limited at the director level(i.e. higher than a manager and lower than an assistant vice-president) the personnel department organized a day long seminar for a lot of people with manager, director and assistant vice-president titles, hosted by a labor lawyer whose job was to explain to use the law in regard to white collar unions, including how the government defined “manager.”

    Northern Telecom’s fear was that white collar employees reporting to us would want a union, and thus it was the job of all of us to take steps to keep such a union out of the company.

    The first problem — and pretty much anything started by a personnel department is guaranteed to have problems — was that we soon learned that many of us would be automatically members of any such union. Unions don’t have managers in them, but what Northern defined as “manager” was not what government thought of as “Manager.” The power to hire and fire, for instance.

    Then the lawyer got into how much financial authority these “managers” had and it turned out that most had too little financial authority to count.

    SO, BACK ON TOPIC…there are legal definitions of “manager” and “management” and there are real world ones.

    In several companies I worked for, I certainly believed I could commit temns of thousands of dollars without asking anyone else, as long as I knew there was a budget category with this amount of money in it.

    But the ability of a company magazine editor yo OK a printr’s invoice for $43,000 doesn’t make her “management.” What makes her management is what words and pictures she can run without getting the permission of someone else, and what words and pictures suggested by someone else that she can decline to run.

    And there are ranges opf actions within the definition. “Managing” media relations by instructing vice-presidents of various operating and support divisions from around the world that they must take a media relations training course and then openly seek media opportunities in their countries is “real” management, as in “”PR is a management function…” and “Managing media relations” by having someone with “co-ordinator” in her title spend days tracking down on the internet the names and prices of various organizations offering media lists in various countries, (Bacon’s, Mathew’s, etc.) is NOT real management.

    Worrying about theory without bothering to define terms carefully is just plain silly. IABC still doesn’t have a clue about face to face employee communications because too many IABC “leaders” did not read a badly written book carefully, the author screwed up, and so did the readers, and no on with any common sense bothers to take issue, except me.

    ANOTHR TOPIC — you’re onto something in regard to “one voice.” It’s just a stupid concpet, mostly American.

    We’ll save that for another day.


Comments are closed.