A public relators’ personal relationship network has always been considered an essential (when not the most essential) part of her/his professional assets. And this by clients/employers, colleagues/competitors and other relevant stakeholders such as business and other opinion leaders.
This ‘untold truth’ has always embarrassed scholars and educators, as well as practitioners, because its most immediate implication is that the ‘people I know’ (and here I refer to the Al Pacino film many of you will have seen) syndrome bears more relevance in one’s professional career than (any?) other professional competency.
At the same time, the ‘personal influence’ model (sofar studied, as far as I know, only by scholar and excellent friend Sriramesh Krishnamurthy), which obviously finds its base on the personal relationship network, although the least studied and rationalised, is by far the most universally adopted model of professional practice.
Sriramesh, quite correctly, rejects the etnocentric notion that the personal influence model derives from, and is mostly based in Asia (quangshi in China, bandobast in India) or is so highly pervasive in Africa (where the concept of ubuntu, which implies much more than that, is so paradigmatic), as if Europe and America where professional continents in which the perceived contents of a professional’s ‘little black book’ is not considered by most organizations and professionals as the true and possibly principal added value the latter brings to the former.
JP Morgan’s very recent consultancy agreement with Tony Blair explicitely cites this feature
I would like here to explore this apparent ‘disturbance’ to the creation of a generally accepted and realistic body of knowledge, and describe the elements of a possible way ahead.
The embarrassment by scholars and educators is two fold:
On one side, it is always difficult to convince students that if they wish to succeed in their chosen profession they need to nurture (at least perceivably) powerful personal connections;
On the other side, academic peers from more established and rooted disciplines already frown on the scientific nature of the existing public relations body of knowledge and, were one to publicly accept and actually study the principle that personal networking is so important, a likely consequence would be to increase that frown and further question the overall validity of public relations as a profession, rather than only a ‘trade’ learned and developed by going to the right schools, mingling with the right individuals, joining the right clubs, having both direct or indirect access to the right introductions…
But the ‘disturbance’ has also always been embarrassing to practitioners… who are well aware of the relevance of their personal networks but:
a) realizing that their success depends so much on this ability, they are unhappy when, as usually occurs, their other professional skills are undermined or appreciated;
b) they are not generally willing to share their personal networks, let alone with employers or clients, for the psychological fear that if and when these networks were to be passed on, they might risk depauperating their own added value and therefore perceived competitive advantage.
Also the ‘little black book’ syndrome is frustrating to professionals because they often rationalize that, when an organization chooses to work with one rather than the other, the reason for this is frequently that the former’s relationship network was perceived to be of a higher quality.
Thus, the personal influence model and the role of personal networks are largely understudied and underestimated in our professional body of knowledge.
Over the last fifteen-twenty years, the application of information and communication technologies has greatly expanded in organizations the practice of ‘knowledge management’:
a business process by which one may assemble and rationalise, on a specific issue, much knowledge existing within an organization (in our case communication managers) or its boundary publics (in our case public relations consultants and agencies) and make it available to members of the organization so that it may transit from being only a personal asset of the individual, to becoming an asset of the organization and therefore adding to its overall value (immaterial, in this case).
One might well argue that an internal professional or, even more so, an external consultant or agency will always want to protect its assets from becoming a permanent asset of the client organization.
This is psychologically understandable. but not based on the simple fact that organizations pay selected individuals in exchange for their professional competencies, and that, if the selection of a specific professional is also (if not only) based on the perceived quality of his/her relationship network, the organization pays for this network and, in principle, has full legitimacy in wishing to add it on to its overall immaterial capital..
More so, there is an accelerating mobility inside organizations, inside and between agencies/consultants. Therefore it is only wise that organizations bear the right to collect, rationalize and consider as part of the value they pay for those relationship networks.
It is evident that these elements should form explicit part of contractual agreements before recruitment or consultancy based assignments.
The question, of course, is ‘how do you go about doing this?’.
The hypothesis I wish to explore is that, by applying appropriately adapted knowledge management criteria, methods and instruments, an organization is capable of absorbing as an organizational asset personal influence and networking relationships of its public relations employees and consultants..
Will this, as some might be inclined to believe, reduce or even eliminate, by a process of disintermediation, the need for consultants or internal public relations professionals?
Of course not.
It will only enhance the real value of their other professional and managerial competencies.
But, one might also add, if any professional competency is detectable, decomposable and transitable from a personal to an organizational asset, will there then come a time in which communication managers or agencies will no longer be necessary for an organization’s public relations activities?
As much as this sounds paradoxical, the answer is, again, a clear no, simply because public relations, unlike advertising (which is capital intensive), is a labour intensive activity and professionals will always be more needed by organizations as their influential publics progressively increase their expectancies.
More so, although itc-mediated virtual relations will certainly increase in relevance, not only will personal relationships (i.e. personal influence) be more important, but one must also consider that even a virtual relationship always needs someone, somewhere behind the computer screen, to interact.
I will stop here for now, very eager to open a discussion on the premise of what could, at least theoretically, become a highly valuable driver to the acceleration of the institutionalization process of the public relations function in any organization: which as you know is the subject of Euprera’s October 2008 congress to be held in Milano, organized by Fepri and IULM University
If you think the premise has valid points and wish for me to proceed, I will do so, explain what knowledge management is about, its paradigms, its processes and then, with your help, will continue and explore its potential operational relationship with public relations.