Facing this historic discontinuity. Two recently developed certainties for our profession: generic principles and specific applications and stakeholder relationship management

I submit that the paradigm of generic principles and specific applications and the practice of stakeholder relationship management constitute an effective integrated framework of reference for our professional community, capable of allowing our practice to fully benefit (or at the very least, suffer less) from this economic crisis, which will be with us for some years to come.
Allow me to dwell on this statement, and explain the why and the how.

First of all, what sort of crisis are we facing?
My idea is that:
° this crisis is global;
° this crisis is here to stay for three to four years;
° this crisis implies a radical disruption of existing economic, societal and political systems:
the three social spheres within which we traditionally practice our profession in developing, facilitating, enhancing relationship systems on behalf of our clients/employers.

If not for other reasons, this one seems to me a more than sufficient one for a radical review of our practices.
I am convinced that, being public relators, we would be making a serious professional mistake if we did not make the effort to understand more clearly where this crisis comes from.
And this because, one of our major roles (see paper published in 2007 in Sao Paolo University journal) is also to help clients and employers better interpret their environments and improve the quality of their decisions and…. turn crisis into opportunities (as they say..).
And we are mandated to understand what is happening with more thought than most others.

May I suggest that this crisis is only one of the many consequences (positive and negative) of the historic global discontinuity caused by the disruption of the concepts of time and space induced by the diffusion of ITC technologies in the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries?

In every situation of discontinuity that we may trace in history (the discovery of America, for example) there are always, and for many decades, conflicts between the new which advances and the old which resists.

In our case, the Nation State and its clearly awkward and clumsy regulatory processes, which have become so evident in these recent years, is part of the old which resists.
Take the financial crisis, the very sector which more than any other benefitted from the globalization made possible by the ICT technologies.
Take the recent biblical and planetary migration tsunami, which has disseminated the whole world with diversities.
A tsunami which has severely challenged the ability, and has in fact proven the inability of the Nation State to govern and avoid the sudden global burst of fundamentalism, racism and terrorism, thus creating unheard of levels of social fear, distrust and anger versus institutions, governments, corporations and most other known forms of societal constructs.

In parallel, and exactly for the same reason (so there is no contradiction here), the recent election of Barack Obama is also interpretable as a sounding (may I say?… highly and intensely hoped for) reaction by the people of the world’s most important and powerful Nation State to that historic discontinuity I mentioned.
An election made possible, precisely, by a breakthrough and many innovative applications of those ICT technologies, as well as a terrifically effective sublimation of the very concept of diversity (can’t resist saying that I cannot even find the words to qualify my Premier’s recent comment -joke, he says!- on Obama’s suntan…if not that it was vulgar, gross, racist, shameful…but this is not barely enough…).

Thus, to attempt to turn a crisis into an opportunity we must try to identify those few fundamentals of our profession which, in their more favourable interpretation, allow us to fully integrate the specific consequences, for us public relators, of those ITC technologies, as well as the specific challenges of all diversities to our profession.

As much as this may sound more than optimistic, I would like to submit that, specifically due to the more recent developments of our body of knowledge in these last, say twenty years, we are further ahead today than many others in this quest.

I submit to you that we at least have two certainties:
-the general paradigm of generic principles and specific applications;
-the organizational model of stakeholder relationship management.
I accept of course that you may think that these are everything but certainties… but I would argue back that they are at least as certain as any other certainty…..

Let me try to explain:

1.

-any organization needs to recognize that each territory has peculiar characteristics which influence and condition public relations practices.
These are effectively understandable at least by analysing that territory’s institutional/legal, economic, political, socio-cultural, active citizenship and media systems.
Each of these systems, dynamic by their very nature, and which therefore require constant monitoring, produce relevant consequences on the organization’s activities and therefore mandate specific and diverse communicative approaches;

-in parallel, any organization is well aware that there are generic professional principles which are mandatory in any specific territory and which need to be integrated into the practice of those specific applications, because any organizational behaviour in one location produces immediate consequences in other parts of the planet.
Amongst these generic principles , for example, are the organizational autonomy of the public relations function; its strategic role in listening and interpreting the expectations of specific stakeholder publics to improve the quality of organizational decisions thus accelerating their time of implementation; its option for two way and tendentially symmetric communication; the principle that responsibility is the principal indicator of sustainable management and that public relations has the role of stimulating and facilitating other managerial functions in developing effective, sustainable and responsible relationship systems with their respective stakeholder clusters

2.

-any organization is well aware of itself as a network of relationship systems and that, in order to reach the aims and objectives it pursues, it must develop relationships with other subjects who bear and/or induce reciprocal consequences from the organization’s activities.
These subjects are stakeholders who decide to be so and who are aware and interested in having a supportive/critical confrontation/dialogue with the organization.
Whether the organization decides to indulge in this confrontation/dialogue or not, produces consequences of those pursued aims and objectives.

Therefore a savvy governance of those relationships needs to be implemented by organizations with full awareness and responsibility and has become one the principal horizontal qualities of any effective manager.
It is also clear that any relationship system is governable mostly by organizational behaviour, and the effective use of communication tools and channels.

From here, the fundamental role today of public relations.

To conclude, and in the hope of having stimulated some attention and lateral thinking, the integration between these two certainties, in my view, constitute the basis for a relatively less complex cohabitation with the more perverse effects of the discontinuity with whom we will be living for yet many years.

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18 Responses to “Facing this historic discontinuity. Two recently developed certainties for our profession: generic principles and specific applications and stakeholder relationship management”
  1. It would be possible to spend hours replying, but I must decline.

    That said… a little time is available, for two thoughts.

    1/ I note that I have seen no sign of any pr society or association making any effort to take a leadership position, to defend or promote our profession, to place us is a more secure position becasue of what we do.

    Can any reader here tell me of something I missed?

    2/ I agree fully with one sentence from Toni’s essay, with the proviso that the authority and responsibility of PR people varies greatly with job title, job description, and “freedom to operate” as provided by bosses. The sentence with which I agree is “And we are mandated to understand what is happening with more thought than most others.”

    The new president of the USA is a half-white Hawaiian with roots in Kansas.

    BAK

  2. Further to the above…

    On re-reading, I might not have been clear.

    I want to make it clear that while I agree with that specific sentence, I also agree with many, many more sentences. I think it’s a good essay, worthy of much thought.

    BAK

  3. Some interesting thoughts.
    Can I be more radical?

    I have been reading Tapscott, Shirky, Godin and more specifically Charles Leadbeater (We-Think 2008 Profile Books). They challenge the very notion of organisations and notably commercial institutions as we know them.

    My concept of organisations being the nexus of relationships (JCM 2006 vol: 10 Issue: 2) has been extended by these writings.

    Leadbeater, in particular, suggests that the nexus of creative relationships that can be achieved through the leverage of ICT will provide a greater challenge to the nature of organisation.

    The ability of Godin’s ‘Tribes’ to add to, enhance and evolve organisational ‘products’ into new and dramatically morphed products and services extends well beyond the capability of a State to move fast enough serves your suggestion but goes much further.

    An idea that gains ground through the network effect can have significant consequences for mega-corp thousands of miles away (do we see applications for Chaos Theory in PR here?).

    Leadbeater uses the examples of kids hijacking SMS on mobile phones to create a completely new application for mobile phones; Kite surfing, the extension of the kite into new applications and the evolution of the mountain bike. The notion is that the Tribe has more potent capability to perfect a new paradigm (see his talk at TED in April on YouTube).

    As organisations do what they normally do in ‘tough times’ they have less protection and reduced ability to monitor or respond to the perfectionist, disruptive innovator communities.

    As for products, so to for services, manufacturers, organisations, political systems and even cultures.

    Just explore that idea for a second. Can we imagine consumption being the outcome of creative potential.

    Imagine a new order where we consume creative potential, not product, not IP but the prospect of outcomes from our inquisitive nature. Mass fashion morphs into micro fashion but on the scale of the impact of communities half way down Clay Shirky’s power curve. Mass production and media is usurped by mass connectivity. This is a completely new notion of traditional economics.

    The hyperlink is mightier than the sword, market, product, service factory or office.

    Perhaps we can see what I mean by example. Can we imagine a circumstance of corporate investment or venture capitalist, in these times, investing in a start up competitor to Microsoft? Well, it has already happened and is manifest in OpenOffice and Firefox – both open source that could not have been financed using 20th century financial and business models. Tribe enthusiasts have shown the way. What about motor cars, buildings and banks? Not when, but how soon and what will the car, building, product look like?

    In recession the big organisation is even more vulnerable. Is our ability as relationship managers capable of seeing such changes happening and then advising the corporation to join in as opposed to reaching for IP lawyers (not once but over and over again)? Can we show HR that it does not always need a contract of employment or Purchasing that its specifications will be changed by the consumer/producer/inventor? Indeed what will their roles be when the enthusiast takes the redundancy package in order to disrupt not just the organisation but the idea of organisation.

    Relationships management has now gone well beyond the concepts of 21st century thinking. The nature of organisations is changed and the idea that the nexus of an organisation can be beyond the boundaries of organisations now comes into its own. There is no nexus of contracts with an open source movement. There is an ability to develop a nexus of relationships – and associated loss of control, and notably loss of control of transparency. Opaque banks need to move well beyond a notion of transparency when the ICT tsunami casts the very notion of transparency (even radical transparency) aside into Tribes with porosity as their mantra.

    The idea of open source has changed too. The nurd at his laptop is now a girl teen designing jewellery using a web widget (and not just on a computer but a cell phone or games machine) for her friend across the world to make at a fraction of the cost of the high street retailer. Inadvertently as a consumer segment of one, she has created open source: design, manufacture, marketing and logistics and, probably innocently, open source ideas of taxation too.

    Relationship management now has to be able to include listening and interpreting the expectations of specific stakeholder publics and then extend into the realm of the disruptive stakeholder where the next innovation is being conceived and created.

    In such times and in the circumstances we see today, what happens to the notion of nationhood? What are the new cultural norms, where does government as a principle stand?

    Can these notions have the social, financial and political clout of the major institutions and in time to affect a recession.

    You bet!

    The one thing we have failed to notice is the rate of change and the ability of the Tribe to explore ideas, discard those that don’t work and adopt and perfect those that do. Darwinian product, service, societal and relationship evolution on steroids.

    Recently, with a friend in Estonia, we developed a new news service. From concept to fist customer took four days. It took me four years to create the evaluation products of Media Measurement in the 1980’s.

    The extent to which the open source enthusiast can live with the normative company and the normative company can embrace the maverick enthusiast is a relationships issue but is is one that shreds the existing models of marketing, finance and organisational structure.

    What can we expect – rather – what can we already see:

    First is the speed of evolution of new products, services, social models and rules of engagement (Online free range farmers’ ‘markets’ carved into food supply chain in two years).
    Second is the near invisible nature of the threat/opportunity (did Hilary Clinton see the digital threat two years ago?).
    Third is the paradigm shift (get bottled water using a computer or tell 100 people how fast you are walking).

    Based on our experience of the last three years and with no acceleration in the rate of change, the three year time-scale of your recession, Toni, will see huge change.

    Most of it will happen because of ubiquitous interactive relationships building.

    Is our industry going to see as much change as Fax machine manufacturers – but in a tenth of the time?

    David

  4. To sum this all up – maybe one word will do: trust. Relationships, political change, crisis, chaos and new business models are all predicated on trust.

  5. comments sofar: two minimalist and one maximalist.

    Brian, I am more interested in knowing what you do not agree with and why, rather than what you do agree with.
    I have the suspicion, somehow revealed by your double response, that you were not particularly happy with this post.

    Heather, to sum it all up… I would say that being healthy and feeling well is the answer to every problem one might have in life.
    As David’s overwhelming comment implies, in my post I was trying to say that:

    - this crisis, due to its origins in the discontinuity of the late twentieth and early twentyfirst centuries, changes all organizational management paradigms, including public relations;

    - due to our prolongued and ongoing quest for identity over the last twenty some years, we are probably more advanced than others to cope with this challenge;

    -the embedding of the generic principles and spedific applications paradigm with the stakeholder relationship management process constitute the new global framework of reference for our profession.

    If this makes sense, the implications for us are much more detailed and specific in terms of both analysis, description and practice than just trust as a term which encompasses everything.

    David, your comment is stimulating and far reaching.
    I am not sure I have grasped every aspect of it, but what I have been able to understand is that you do not basically disagree with my proposition, yet you wish to extend it to its (at the moment) extreme philosophical consequences.
    I like this approach and will certainly look up all the references.
    One thing I have learned from you (but many more..) is never to ignore your sources.

    However I would very much want, in future posts, to articulate and try to detail the two sides of the supposedly embeddable coin:
    °the generic principles and, even more so, the specific applications to the point of conceptualizing better than I have in past posts the idea of a public relations infrastrucutre of a given territory;
    °but most importantly to detail the various phases (in the context of that paradigm) of stakeholder relationship management as an organizational process (i.e. adopting and adapting many of your thoughts).

  6. Toni, I do not disagree with you but what you ask for is a tall order.

    I have an answer for your first issue but not the second.

    I am not sure that our prolonged and ongoing quest for identity over the last twenty some years offers us as much hope as you suggest. The history is not great.

    Here are some of the things that are preventing us from developing theoretical concepts that need to be up dated.

    The first is that this is multi disciplined. Communications theory meets evolutionary science meets network theory etc. This might also include two areas that are difficult for the PR species – Math and Technology!

    The second is that the case studies we have are, by the nature of accelerating change, difficult to pin down and are conceptually difficult to grasp (open source economic; open source creativity asset etc).

    Third is our (the PR industry’s) reluctance to be consumer participants as practitioners in the new paradigm.

    There are two additional structural problems.

    The professional institutions have a problem understanding that communication channels (repositories of the lubricant of relationships), now extend to new forms like games, SMS and the virtual environments now used by a majority in their sectors.

    The other second structural problem is academic drive.

    Human relationship management is even more important to humanity than CERN’s Large Hadron Collider but we have not even begun to think of funding research into the fundamental drivers of relationships with similar zeal or budgets. Perhaps its time for a PR initiative to get such interest and research funding. If such research were to prevent one war, €3.2–6.4 billion (the anticipated cost of the Collider) would seem cheap.

    Meanwhile some Universities are even withdrawing both research and teaching funding. Most PR research into ICT influence on communication/reputation/relationships as a PR practice is funded from academics own pockets (and don’t I know it!).

    But now to the grist. Philip Young and I have a new CIPR ‘PR in Practice’ book in print that may help. We are also beginning to talk about a more seminal work which may include a lot more collaborators.

    In considering generic principles the ones laid down by the CIPR/PRCA Internet Commission in 1999/2000 still seem to hold water (Anne Gregory, Mark Adams, Alison Clark and Roy Lipski gave us considerable insights).

    The principle areas for consideration (the generic perspectives) remain and are: Internet Richness, Reach, Transparency, Porosity and Agency (CIPR/PRCA Internet Commission and also explicated in the first – and second edition in print – of ‘Online Public Relations’ 2000 Kogan Page).

    And perhaps it is now time to build on some of the insights that came from that early work and the resulting essays in the special edition of Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 5 No.2 way back in 2000.

    Some of the abstracts now seem prescient:

    “Until recently stakeholder communication has tended to be mostly unidirectional and simple. However, the advent of the Internet has brought unprecedented change. Stakeholder communication is no longer unidirectional, and as stakeholders increasingly communicate with each other this communication becomes infinitely more complex.”(Bussy, Nigel M. de; Watson, Richard T.; Pitt, Leyland F.; Ewing, Michael T.)

    “This paper re-examines three of the older communication systems models to establish whether there are elements within them that can be helpful in explaining the dynamics of Internet-based communication.”(Fawkes, Johanna; Gregory, Anne)

    “The World Wide Web may be worldwide in its potential consumption, but hardly in its production. It demonstrates that globalisation is not a general state of affairs of the world, but a process of uneven development even, or maybe even more so, in the field of new technologies. The same can be said of public relations ? its supply and demand are unevenly distributed around the world. This exploratory study investigates the global supply of public relations industry services and the supply of Internet services for public relations purposes in the USA, Austria and Slovenia.” (Vercic, Dejan; Razpet, Ale?; Dekleva, Samo; lenc, Mitja)

    “The Internet has radically altered the dynamics of corporate reputation formation and management. In the growing hubbub of consumer, media and activist dissection of corporate behaviour, companies are finding it increasingly difficult to make their voices heard. By creating newly accessible channels of communication and organisation, the Internet has shifted the balance of power of ‘voice’. The result is that corporate reputations are increasingly defined not by what companies do or say, but by how others perceive and respond to their actions and words.” (Bunting, Mark; Lipski, Roy).

    As the above abstracts show, a long time ago, we had some interesting insights that somehow spilled into the sands. The CIPR produced a pamphlet from the papers presented to the Commission (in Place of Spin) and then seemed to forget its content as the current consultation shows.

    And then all the theories were re-invented over half a decade later and largely by Americans and mostly not by PR people (Shel Holtz is one of a few shining exceptions).

    As for your future quest:

    To detail the various phases (in the context of the ‘extreme philosophical consequences’) of stakeholder relationship management as an organizational process.

    That will have to wait for another time.

  7. Allan says:

    I think your guess that this economic crisis will stick around for a long while is mostly accurate. We haven’t really seen the shoe drop on hedge funds yet. Most hedgies will see heavy investor redemptions. When that happens, they’ll need to sell their positions to meet redemption requirements. That will result in a horrible downward spiral that could potentially drive us deeper into this bear market.

    The world now has some monumental problems to solve.

  8. David, there is a lot I need to digest before coming back.
    One question: as you might have noticed my concept of generic principles are from an ‘organizational’ perspective (autonomy of the function, techical managerial and strategic role, listening to the environment and stakeholder expectancies, facilitating other organizational functions to better manage their relationship systems with respective stakeholder groups, responsible communication, enhancing the value of diversity…).
    It seems to me instead that you suggest I take on another perspective….you seem to be implying an integrally online based perspective which to me appears excessive…
    But…even so…
    Would you consider it reasonable that, while keeping an organizational perspective, I include in those generic principles something like ‘interaction between real and virtual environments’(to include therefore the consequences of ICT on our profession)… or would you consider this putting together apples and pears?
    thanks

  9. @David,

    A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away, you and I had a discussion on chaos theory which I suspect you will not recall. In that conversation I put to you that one of the opportune roles for public relations was to mitigate and streamline chaos within the online world. That opportunity still exists – but diminishes with every day that passes. However, the great and good still seem to chew on this like a wasp and fail to undertake the requisite actions. There has been a great digest of strategy over the last fifteen years – I am now almost looking forward to a resounding burp of tactics that could see the actualisation of public relations in practice in both online and offline realms.

    I am bored with people faffing around; completely over associations talking but not acting on behalf of members. Somebody, somewhere has to hit the coalface first, and, in my book, that is the job of associations, so their members can chip away and follow through with the leadership, back up and support of the big guys. I hope that in some portion somewhere, groups of practitioners will supply other practitioners with the concise, comprehensive and collaborative methods they need in order to undertake the task at hand that Toni outlines.

    @anyone vaguely interested

    We can bang on ad infinitum about paradigms, concepts and collusion but until the majority of practitioners are informed and confident as to their role we are, to put it quite bluntly, pissing in the wind.

    There has been much discussion about public relations not being qualified to speak about the way ahead because ‘we’ have been part of the problems of ‘now’. I disagree. Where we have been at fault – our grand mea culpa – is not advocating with sufficient strength within, and to change, the organisations we serve on behalf of the myriad of stakeholder groups (or actors, or publics, or communities or whatever is today’s term).

    I completely agree with Toni’s observations; my only note – borne of personal frustration – is that our current situation has been apparent and evident for some time – 2005 I would suggest at the latest – and that no preventative action has been taken. What, may I ask, have we been doing up till now, given our significant and collective competencies in environmental scanning? Maybe, for many, it just fell into the ‘too hard basket’. Well it is even harder to fix now. For those who might have read a line or two of anything I have written here previously you may be aware that for me, media is to public relations as as apples are to Ferrari, but, in this instance, we should share one characteristic – the ability to respond to a deadline without resorting to extensive deliberation and ponderous coagulation. And that deadline is upon us.

    Elsewhere on PRC, Tonks has commented (sic):

    “Presently, in some circles, this is not happening; unions (and activists like me) are still constrained by lack of transparency, inclusivity, respect for human dignity, authoritarianist practices where people see themselves as the only people on earth, others are just machines. I have seen PR employees treated as image builders, carrying the flag for their superiors; I have seen communication employee being organisation shields that protect them from media attacks: representing good than bad publicity. therefore, stakeholder relationship management and participation of PR/Communications members in organisational decision-making and strategic direction is long overdue.

    I believe that this quote is particularly valid, even out of its original context. The opportunity is there for us to speak with a view to guiding change. There is a necessity – almost an imperative – for things to change; there is a confusion as to ‘where to next’, exacerbated by a mistrust of what has gone before. So, perhaps, collectively (not just public relations, but the complete community), there should be a recognition and admission that we have previously got things wrong – an action completely at odds with existing and historic business and organisational models. But, if it can be done and once it is out of the way, we can then work to improve our current and pending predicament based on the primal need and recognition that all societal functions revolve around – you guessed it – the individual and collective human relationship. And unless I am mistaken, the human relationship is what we do. Best.

    As an aside to Toni, I cannot agree that the US is the ‘most important and powerful Nation State’. It might have been perceived as such once, and very recently as well,
    but it ain’t the case no more – George W put the final nail in the coffin for that one. No amount of work by Barack Obama and his successors will reinstate that perception. The prime US position of the late twentieth century has passed and is now completely fallible – much the same as the Greeks and Romans of ancient times or the slightly more contemporary ‘British Empire’. Look East, but not West, South, but not North in the long term.

  10. Catherine, Toni… so much!.

    First of all an answer for Toni. I have a problem with the theory that most people still to describe an organisation. Coarse’ concept of a nexus of contracts is now stretched to the point that it is no longer practical (and Sonsino’s idea of a nexus of conversations is too lightweight). At every level and in every department, organisations have become porous. They lease the office, factory, computer and machine tool, Like Procter and Gamble, Lego, or IBM they use open source Intellectual Property to compete with products. Manufacture is shipped to another company/country and even the means for payment and distribution belongs beyond the institutional structure. It is not that this is some cyberspace phenomena. It is not a virtual phenomena. This is about hard bricks and mortar, real machines and products you find in every home.
    The organisation as it could have been described in 1958 no longer exists. In 50 years it has become an institution held together by relationships. So when we in PR talk of public relations being between an organisation and its public’s, we need to have a better idea of what we mean by organisation.
    But the changed nature of an organisation does not stop there.
    In the past, we recognised the militaristic nature of corporate structures. There were managerial divisions such as R&D, Manufacturing, Finance, Marketing, Sales, Transport. There were ranks such as labourer, clerk, foreman, supervisor, manager, department head and director. Contact between organisational division was discouraged. They were kept in separate locations and often had to make a journey or (expensive) telephone call via an operator to make inter departmental contact.
    A clerk would never talk to a manager because the manager knew everything and past on the information that a supervisor needed to know, who in turn told the clerk what to do. You can see it laid out in its perfect symmetry in the Swindon Railway Museum. In 1958, just 50 years ago, that is how it was.
    Today the newest, youngest employee can communicate to anyone of any rank in any division or department at will. With a really bright idea, that person can also create a small group of enthusiasts for something that will be just great to make them all rich and the company prosper. The old idea of an organisation is now different. Communications inside the company has changed that.
    But hang on…. the organisation outsources lots of stuff.
    So this new, junior person and his group of enthusiasts may well be dealing with an external institution (who might also work with competitors).
    The nature of this group is that they have built relationships, are able to act independently and within and beyond the boundaries of the organisation. They have wrested control from the organisational ‘dominant coalition’ and the structure of organisations is changed.
    Great theory…. is there any evidence?
    Three months ago people who lent money to banks had almost no say in how those banks should be run. Then tax payers money was leant to banks. Now the editor of every newspaper, every Parliamentarian and, it seems, every bar room bore is affecting how banks are run. Outsourcing access to capital to taxpayers changed the way banks are run. The rise and rise of Management Buyouts (still an active market worldwide despite the credit crunch) is a manifestation of control moving inside organisations.
    So far, I have avoided including the impact of ICT. But lurking in the background are things like email, low cost telephony and fast data transfer that made all this happen.
    For many organisations, there is every appearance that they are monolithic until you look at the bottom of their website, look at the extent of off-balance sheet financing, examine the services they outsource such as recruitment, competitor research (most people don’t realise that Google is the most used form of competitor research in the world) and now we can see just how much control organisations have ceded to institutions beyond their control.
    So now, perhaps, I can put the question back to you Toni. What do you mean by organisation? Is it that group of people in a relationship whose values associated with tokens such as brands bind them to a common cause?
    This may well mean that Public Relations has to re-think its foundations to the extent that it has to grow up to challenge the myth that sustains the accounting and auditing profession – the nature of tangible and intangible assets.
    These are legitimate questions for academia and working in concert with practice it has to be able to ask these big questions.
    Which neatly takes us to Catherine’s relevant comments (and yes I do remember our all to short exchange over the nature of chaos theory in application to PR theory and practice).
    Like Catherine, I too am frustrated by the PR institutions. They have to engage in the big questions. These questions offer future advantage for practitioners. Never before has that been more important than today.
    I am completely committed to the idea that PR is about relationships management. I am completely committed to the sector not being fragmented by semantics (press relations, corporate affairs, internal communication, etc) because they are all valuable niche skill sets that make up the whole and which we all need to have some knowledge about and some of us need to be deeply expert.
    All professions have specialist communities. If they don’ they are trades.
    The member associations have almost conspired to keep members in the dark about the fundamental changes that are affecting the PR sector and the Universities are culpable in their use of academic brains to count fairies on pinheads while the Universe is caving in on their students and practitioners alike.
    I want to start with media relations because its change will have a huge financial impact on the industry.
    In February 2009, the number of advertising pages in print publications will be reduced. It is hard to guess by how much but let’s be optimistic (as I think this week’s media reports have been) – print media will decline 50% across Europe in 2009.
    When will the recovery come? April? June? September? Or, as media report in the UK has it, perhaps 2012 (http://xrl.in/12n8).
    And if by then, the newspapers and magazines have not found a new way of engaging readers they will be dead or next to it?
    While we are imagining this Armageddon, let’s call it 50% fewer editorial pages.
    Perhaps 50% of PR activity is predicated on contributing to editorial pages.
    As the blood spreads on the editorial carpets so too does it spread to the miltch cow 25% of the PR industry. That is 25% of PR jobs, revenues, support industries and so forth.
    In the UK this represents a loss of PR sector revenues amounting to about $0.5 billion (for the Global Alliance lets imagine perhaps $10 billion worldwide).
    Unless, of course, the sector is capable, trained and ready to find new way of engaging people.
    Who is it that steps into the world, where 11 million people are assaulted with fantastical lush greenery and floating cities through to barren ice lands and Titan-esque ancient structures in World of Warcraft. Is YouTube tame by comparison? And is a page of http://www.guardian.co.uk …. well…. dull?
    Did we see this coming?
    Even before the death of relationship management between banks (lets call that the failure of the Corporate Affairs sector for clarity), were there indications of problems for print, radio and TV publishing (well, can we call that the Press Relations sector)?
    Did we see that internal communication would face new strains when most folk (yes it’s a majority in the UK) have a Facebook profile competing with the lumpy firewall protected intranet to build dominant-coalition-sapping brand evangelist groups? Is this a threat to the Internal Communications sector in Public Relations (and will the new CIPR certificate equip members to face the issues)?
    For the Public Affairs, did we notice that volunteers used Obama’s website to organise a thousand phone-banking events in the last week of the race …and 150,000 other campaign-related events over the course of the campaign. Supporters created more than 35,000 groups by affinities like geographical proximity and shared pop-cultural interests. By the end of the campaign, myBarackObama.com chalked up some 1.5 million accounts. Obama’s campaign was the story of his supporters, whose creativity and enthusiasm manifested through multitudes of websites and YouTube videos online. It even resulted in volunteer contributions like the innovative Obama ‘08 iPhone and iTouch application that enabled owners to mobilize their friends and contacts in battleground states through the Apple devices.
    The PR gurus in the Marketing Public Relations sector might look at other models like nine year old ASOS.com’s first half sales anticipated to be up 100 per cent to £65 million when it reports its interim figures on November 17 (and a debt-free balance sheet).
    From this one might expect that the PR institutions (associations, institutes and academia) might be working hard at where the profession is going. They might be showing leadership. They may be examining how to re-energise this profession. They might be looking at the big questions and the big issues.
    Today, they are very big.

  11. Thank you David.
    In one of my early management articles (1974 Pubblicità Domani, also published in Relazioni Pubbliche e Orgainzzazioni Complesse 2004 Lupetti Editore) I described the organization as quote
    ‘a network of relationships amongst subjects contributing to the achievement of a common aim. To achieve that aim the organization develops relationships with other subjects in its operative environment whose behaviours, opinions, attitudes and decisions are influenced by the organization and/or influence that aim’.
    Today, I would add that
    ‘the organization, to achieve its aim, defines possible implementative phases, listens to and inteprets the expectancies of its stakeholders to improve the quality of its decisions and to accelerate the times of their implementation’.

    Having said this, I am very grateful for your insights. Of course I agree with what you write and promise to make good use of your suggestions.
    I have just returned from a Global Alliance Board meeting held in Lugano (whose University is now permanently hosting the Secretariat of the Alliance…and this is truly very good news…).
    It is ironic that in those few moments in which I am relatively optimistic about the impact of our collective efforts to improve the awareness and activities of our professional community, I read pessimism pervading both Catherine and David…. but I will come back to this in another post soon.

  12. I am perplexed by the frequent condemnations in this column of the PR associations. Just who do you mean by this sort of comment? The remarks I’ve read in this blog seem to imply that a handful of Big Monolithic Powers are somehow conspiring against their members. Frankly I think this is nonsense. Why do you exempt these associations from other declarations that organisations are just networks of relationships? The condemnation should be for the vast majority of the members of these associations who act like the monkeys that see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil. I never cease to be astonished by the number of people in my professional association who claim not to have the time to attend events, read articles, network actively with other members or consult online archives, let alone getting actively involved in the association leadership. The number of these people who tell me that they don’t have time to try out social media and other new tools is frighteningly high. A good number of professionals are choosing to become obsolete, and I am at a loss to explain their rationale. Let’s not be conspiracy theorists, because in this day and age, I think it would be pretty hard for the associations to keep awareness of these developments from their members. But they can’t force their members to face the truth.

    What they can do is be much more aggressive and transparent about how members can participate actively and what the benefits are for the individual.

  13. Kristen, I take the criticism on the chin. You have a point. But there is the counterpoint that leadership is also important and obliging “the good number of professionals are choosing to become obsolete” is not good leadership.

    There is another problem. The associations are polling their members to asses the views of members. Many of the responses they are getting a view possibly of a “majority of the members of these associations who act like the monkeys that see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil.”

    Not surprisingly, they too might be “astonished by the number of people in the professional association who claim not to have the time to attend events, read articles, network actively with other members or consult online archives… (and) don’t have time to try out social media and other new tools.”

    It does mean some of us have to try harder or, alternatively, turn our backs on those we cannot redeem.

    Worse still, for some of us, is that we believe that a lot of current day thinking is not capable of seeing just a little way into the future.

    I have a simple question I try out on anyone who will listen: ‘based on the changes in communication over the last three years, what platforms and channels for communication will be relevant for the practice of PR in three years time?’

  14. Kristen E. Sukalac says:

    David,

    That’s a really good question! And an impossible one to answer because several of the key platforms probably haven’t been invented yet. But very thought-provoking.

    I agree that the associations should be trying to stimulate their members, but short of marching into individual offices and forcing people to log on and catch on, there’s a limit to what they can do. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t force it to listen to podcasts!

    And to be fair, it’s not always easy to understand the technology, especially if you don’t have really good technical support. I spent years oblivious to the interest of RSS feeds until someone somewhere explained that it was just like a news feed into my My Yahoo page. And, as a matter of fact, Yahoo has recently discontinued their separate RSS feed function and has now integrated it into the My Yahoo page.

    I’m not out to redeem anyone. I’ll talk about my learning curve, but if people don’t have intellectual curiosity and a desire for self-improvement, then that’s their choice.

    With regard to your point on polls, I would guess that those monkeys are the ones who don’t bother participating in surveys. Because our associations do tend to use the not-so-scientific opt-in approach to polling.

  15. Kristen, the adventure finding stuff out about the technology aside, I am trying hard to grasp what the new media will look like.
    There are two things at play:
    The range of new platforms is changing fast. iPhone and the Wii are significant.
    Speed of channel development associated with search (I wanted to explain about the newer forms of PR segmentation for PR students today and chose http://www.twitterlocal.net) is a maturing concept.

  16. Kristen E. Sukalac says:

    So here’s where I show my ignorance: I own a Wii and don’t see how play tennis without wires is significant for social media. Am I missing something?

    The proliferation of new touch-screen phones demonstrates that iPhone touched a nerve. The other day, I saw a toch-screen desktop for sale, showing that we are getting closer to anyone owning the cool kind of technology that forensic police always have on tv.

    Kristen

  17. Kristen
    When you answer an email are you responding to a technology or a person (same applies to phone calls/letters etc)? In communication, are we able to part substitute people with technologies? Have you played Wii tennis with someone remotely (e.g. in another country). If so who were you playing? Was it a person or an avatar? Is the avatar more ‘real’ that a letter, email or phone call? How far can the substitution go? Wii tennis mixed double with Skype turned up high may explain what I mean. Communication is changing a lot.

    I just love Kevin Kelly’s contribution It puts all this into contexts: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/kevin_kelly_on_the_next_5_000_days_of_the_web.html

  18. Kristen E. Sukalac says:

    No, I’ve only ever played with people in my living room. My tv is not hooked up to any network (I don’t even have cable!)

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