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admin 07.12.2014

This blog post and paper tackles the opportunities and challenges for our profession as we face up to modernity and the role of public relations in organisational management leadership.
It started out as speaker notes ahead of speaking opportunities at the World PR Forum in Madrid today, and the PRSA International Conference in Washington next month. There is much said at conferences and events, and written on blogs and in traditional media, about the fundamental shifts taking place in the media and the impact on the business of public relations. These conversations focus on who (practitioners, agencies and communication teams), what (modernise public relations), why (media change and opportunity) and when (now) but very rarely how.
I’m keen to hear your views on how you are helping to modernise your public relations agency or communication team. Public relations faces two fundamental challenges to its future: firstly adopting the rigour of a profession in a bid to improve our reputation, and second modernising the application of practice.
In this blog post I want to tackle the modernisation of public relations and explore the value of the services that we provide to organisations. The majority of public relations agencies and communication teams have been built to focus on a single audience, namely traditional media. In Two-Way Street, published in 1948, early public relations practitioner Eric Goldman describes the three stages of the development of corporate communication during the period from 1900 to the time of the publication of his book.
It’s uncanny how these same stages can just as easily be applied to public relations in the second half of the 20th century and the 21st century: spin, publicity or media relations, and most recently direct audience or public engagement. Shortly after the publication of Goldman’s book the public relations industry became obsessed about communicating with the public via the proxy of mainstream media rather than direct public engagement. The rise of mass media, radio, television and print, in the 1950s, and its ability to provide a shortcut to mass audiences, brought about a fundamental change in the style of organisational communication.
Only now, more than 60 years on, are changes in citizen and consumer behaviour, enabled by the Internet and the fragmentation of mainstream media, forcing organisations back to Mr Goldman’s so-called two-way street.
The perception of public relations has the potential to significantly hold back growth and the maturation of the profession.
Other public relations theorists such as James Grunig celebrate the ideal of two-way symmetrical communication between an organisation and its publics. I have yet to work with an organisation that truly engages with its publics in a two-way dialogue. That notwithstanding we are shifting beyond the use of traditional media, as a means to influence publics through third-party earned influence, to use a variety of media and networks to engage with publics on behalf of the organisations. The Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) reported this month that half of public relations (PR) agencies are currently responding to the significant client-side opportunity in paid digital and social media. The PRCA Digital PR Report 2014, produced in partnership with The Holmes Report and YouGov, revealed that agencies take between 11 per cent and 20 per cent of their revenues from social media and digital production. The research also revealed that almost two-thirds of organisations have seen digital budgets rise over the past 12 months, and the same percentage expects them to rise again in the coming year.
The motivation for companies to use social media is primarily for marketing and brand awareness (87 per cent), followed by customer service (50 per cent). Twitter ranks highest in campaign usage (98 per cent), followed by LinkedIn (89 per cent), and blogs (88 per cent). The main source (69 per cent) of social media education for agency staff are expert blogs, and 70 per cent also stated that the proportion of digital training they receive is limited.
So how do we transform our agency and communication teams to engage with these new forms of media? The challenge, as with any business transformation, is how you tackle organisational changes while limiting the impact in terms of organisational or financial performance.
I created this chart in my job at Ketchum to describe the shift we need to move through as we work with clients to tackle the new opportunities that the Internet offers our business. Each stage of this evolution builds on the past and provides new opportunities for the agency, or communication team.
The first area of transformation to consider is where traditional media relations programmes can be modernised. I’d urge teams to breakdown media relations workflow and consider how each area can be modernised.
Use search tools for basic research, Twitter for journalist research, optimise press releases for search and social sharing, use new forms of media and networks to create content and pitch journalists, and analytics to track results. Media relations is a form of influencer relations whereby we persuade journalists to write favourable articles about our clients and organisations. Organisations seek to engage with these new influencers and secure their third-party endorsement and the reach of their network. The content and channel may be new but an influencer relations campaign is effectively media relations for the modern age. The skills required for influencer relations are more sophisticated than traditional media relations as we make use of the data and insights available via the Internet.
Planning tools are required to identify influencers in a given market, and you need to be able to convey your message and story using different forms of media and content. Like all areas of developing public relations practice, it also benefits from a growing third party tools market although in most cases they remain relatively crude. Blogging, Twitter and YouTube are the most sophisticated for influencer identification and management, whereas other networks are at an earlier stage of development.
The development of content in images and video rather than words requires an investment in skills. In my view the development of communities around an organisation in a two-way form of engagement is the most significant opportunity for modern public relations practice that we’ve had in more than a generation. In this way an organisation seeks to build reputation and engagement not only through third-party influence but also directly via its own media and social forms of media. The PRCA reported in its recent Digital PR Report (see above) that other disciplines and in-house experts continue to raise their levels of expertise. Public relations practitioners have an opportunity to assert their role within organisations. The typical approach to incorporating new forms of media into public relations campaigns is to bolt it on as an additional channel; a Facebook page or Twitter account is added to a programme in the belief that this makes it social.
We have access, unlike ever before, to data from social forms of media to help us identify the media where publics are engaged, and understand their motivation. The social web is often described as the largest market research exercise that no one ever commissioned.
Planning is increasingly an important function in public relations to enable insights to be drawn from data to inform campaign strategies that are aligned to organisational objectives.
AMEC’s Valid Metrics Framework (opens as a PDF) should always form the basis for communication measurement and evaluation. A series of templates describe every type of public relation campaign and call on practitioners to align objectives with those of the organisation and set not only outputs, but critically outcomes, for every area of a campaign. As we continue to work through the planning model the next two significant areas of development in modern public relations are the development of content, and the management of modern forms of media. I’ve already acknowledged the shift from text to multimedia content including photos, images and video.

This shift to an organisation participating in a community is the biggest communication change that organisations face in the coming decade, as they seek to modernise their communication teams and engagement with public relations agencies. Whenever an organisation creates a new channel it will very quickly be discovered by publics or audiences as a means to engage with the organisation. Promotional social channels very quickly become hijacked by customers wanting to call out customer service woe. As the PRCA’s Digital PR Report 2014 (see above) shows, public relations expertise no longer falls solely within the domain of a communication team but is required within every area of an organisation.
This is part of the ongoing shift in organisational communication that removes the line between external and internal stakeholders.
Organisations are moving beyond the tactical use of social media, to embed social technologies into their business processes that enable communication, collaboration and insight into customer, employee, supplier and partner behaviour. I’ve explored the requirements for new skills in each of the areas that I have outlined above, and the changes that need to be made to modernise.
There are three ways to transform a public relations business or communication team around digital, depending on the scale and the potential for investment. Hire new staff with the skills that your organisation lacks to plug the gaps and work alongside existing staff. This is a combination of the first two approaches whereby a team of domain experts is hired to speed change through training and practice. One thing is for sure: communication teams and public relations agencies in the future will look a lot different to how they have in the past. Teams will be based on the skills that have been outlined here such as research, planning, content or community management, rather than generalists being the norm.
UK agency the Crowd & I has taken inspiration from other professions and industries in a bid to modernise public relations workflow. Founder and managing director Gemma Griffiths believes that the technology profession can provide lots of useful lessons. In November 2013 the Cabinet Office published an assessment of how digital aspects of Government communication are planned and executed and how they can be improved. The Digital Communication Capability Review is a bold piece of work that contains lessons for both the public and private sector. Pockets of digital expertise exist in specialist teams, communication is often broadcast and one-way, and digital communication is frequently treated as a risk rather than an opportunity to improve citizen engagement. The review sets out a bold ambition and a plan that seeks to nominate digital communication. Digital forms of communication and engagement should be a core skill, not a specialism, communication leaders need to work close together to share best practice, and attitudes to risk need to be balanced with business need.
A work plan sets out objectives and actions for the wholesale upgrade of government communications. The review commits to improve access to technology, support change via leadership, improve skills and training, and address governance.
Harvard Business Review (HBR) and McKinsey have both published lots about modernising business around digital and are worth seeking out.
I often return to the Cluetrain Manifesto, written in 1999, which predicted all of the changes that we see in organisational communication.
My thanks to the following people for reviewing this blog post and for providing critical input prior to publication: Rob Brown, Ged Caroll, Margaret Clow, Gemma Griffiths, Sarah Hall, Sarah Pinch, Laura Sutherland and Danny Whatmough. Partner and Chief Engagement Officer, Ketchum and Visiting Professor in Practice, Newcastle University.
We decided that a scientific-based approach would be more universal in its applicability, than empirical based approaches which are usually bounded by the peculiar nature of the geographies, cultures and industries from which they were developed. At the Haines Centre for Strategic Management, we have developed many tools and techniques, templates and models to help organizations to perform better. Once we had the basic ABC Model, we then started to figure out how to use it as an integrated organizing framework for Strategic Planning. As a result of our re-inventing, we developed the strategic model that we use as a cor­nerstone of our practice (see Reinventing Strategic Planning model above).
Moving from Vision to Action is a nine-step planning process for community and institutional change. Figure 2 summarizes each of the nine steps, their purpose, and the key questions they answer. Determine what actions will achieve the goals and what measures will indicate their achievement. MDC, Inc., a private nonprofit focusing on expanding opportunity, reducing poverty, and building inclusive communities, created Moving from Vision to Action to meet the needs of the economically distressed communities with which it works.
Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) is a community-capacity-building process developed by John Kretzmann and John McKnight of Northwestern University in Chicago. The ABCD emphasis on the assets of people, neighborhoods, and communities is distinctly different from the many community-development strategies that focus on the deficits of communities. These elements do not presume to add up to a complete blueprint for community development. Mapping completely (household by household, block by block) the capacities and assets of individuals, citizens' associations, and local institutions.
Building relationships among local assets for mutually beneficial problem solving within the community. Mobilizing the community's assets fully for economic development and information-sharing purposes. Convening as broadly representative a group as possible for the purposes of building a community vision and plan.
Leveraging activities, investments, and resources from outside the community to support asset-based, locally defined development. Although Kretzmann and McKnight's original research and work focused on community problem solving in urban neighborhoods, subsequent work has shown how the ABCD approach has been effectively used in rural areas. A full description of the ABCD approach can be found in Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community's Assets, published by the Northwestern University Institute for Policy Research in 1993.
I explore the journey that public relations is making from publicity to a management discipline, suggest how to transition an agency or communication team while limiting the impact on organisational performance, and include case studies from UK agency the Crowd & I and the UK Government. In my view it’s the single biggest aspect of practice that we need to tackle to address our reputation.
It has never been easier to run paid campaigns or direct-to-consumer communications,” said Danny Whatmough, Chair of the PRCA Digital Group and Head of Digital, Consumer EMEA, Weber Shandwick. The leadership and vision provided by early professionals throughout the first half of the twentieth century has since been squandered.
Most clients only start to think about PR at the point at which they want their name in lights.
It’s an issue that is explored in a paper in 2012 to achieve Chartered PR Practitioner status.
However, there is expected growth in usage of Google+ (78 per cent), Instagram (72 per cent), and Pinterest (63 per cent) in the next year.

This doesn’t require radical change to the workflow, systems or processes within an agency or communication team.
There are new technology-led solutions for almost every aspect of traditional media relations from planning and contact management to content development and publishing. They can be anyone with a network or community of their own; so an individual with a blog, or on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter or YouTube. Typically agencies or in-house teams will buy in design or production expertise until they have sufficient demand for a full time resource.
This is an increasingly competitive space as other disciplines such as advertising, digital and creative all vie for budget and work. Worryingly there has been a 13 per cent growth in firms not using public relations agencies to help with tactical digital and social work over the last 12 months (five per cent to 18 per cent). In my view, two-way dialogue, or conversation to use the modern parlance, is firmly the domain of public relations.
The application of social media in public relations needs to start from a more basic position.
Increasingly third-party tools are available to cut data sets down to size and draw insights, and media choices, to inform campaign planning.
Consumer insights are increasingly sought after as the lines between disciplines blur and public relations consultancies work to connect clients directly with stakeholders,” said Sarah Hall, managing director, Sarah Hall Consulting, and director, CIPR. It also enables rigorous measurement criteria to be set to evaluate and measure campaign activity. I’d urge you to use your mobile phone to explore how to create and use each of these types of content. The modern public relations practitioner is a community manager helping to facilitate and curate conversations across owned communities such as apps, a website or wiki, and platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn or Pinterest. Advertising and the promotion of content is critical if you want to optimise the reach of your content in these forms of media. But we can’t expect to waltz into this complex field and succeed without earning our stripes,” said Mr. It requires teams to be reorganised and aligned with the planning, and demands new skills to be added to existing teams. Any gap between the expectation of a product or service, and the reality, will generate a conversation on the social web.
Having set a strategy for modernising a team everyone’s learning and development and key performance indicators should be aligned. This is a disruptive approach but is often essential to kick start change and can only ever be a short term strategy. This process can be accelerated through acquisition but that raises an additional set of challenges in terms of integrating the new team. Servicing clients around the clock and employee work-life balance are not mutually exclusive. An agency will write a detailed three-month plan and report back to the client on a weekly, monthly and quarterly basis,” said Ms. Years ago they would take a brief from a client, go off and build the product and then report back three months later at the end of the project. He recently published a report called The Nine Elements of Digital Transformation based on interviews with executives at organisations with greater than $1bn sales.
Cluetrain set out a series of 95 theses that predicted the impact of the Internet on markets. If you enjoyed this blog post you may like to receive future posts as they are published, via email. One of these models is the ABC Model, the input-throughput-output-feedback model, which describes how systems work. The typical bottom-line results clients desire show up dramatically in the sec­ond year.
We researched the 27 different planning and change authors men­tioned earlier to figure out how to make surethat it was a research-based and integrated Strategic Management Process. However, communities and their economies, institutions, and people are dynamic and changing entities.
This process has since been tested and refined in communities across the United States, from Appalachia to Texas border communities, including 24 sites that participated in the Rural Community College Initiative (RCCI) demonstration funded by the Ford Foundation and designed and managed by MDC. ABCD embraces an asset orientation to community change and works toward whole community mobilization.
Rather than continuing the traditional focus on the needs of individuals and communities, ABCD offers a new mindset that identifies the skills, talents, and capacities of individuals, associations, and organizations, and mobilizes these positive energies to improve communities.
Rather, they are intended to identify some of the major challenges facing community builders, and to point toward the beginning of a path or process that would mobilize an entire community's assets around a vision and a plan. PR is often seen as a bolt on service and PR professionals are brought in to sell the story rather than help create it. We’re able to integrate video into public relations campaigns and demonstrate the benefit to clients. Implementing new working arrangements is a sure fire way in which consultancies can modernise, and quickly,” said Mrs. It is designed for a lead group to bring together diverse community representatives and leaders from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to analyze their community, craft a vision for the future, implement strategies to achieve that vision, and evaluate their progress. The planning process should be seen as flexible: you should go back and forth between steps as needed.
We’re achieving great results,” said Laura Sutherland, managing director, Aura PR, and director, CIPR. The steps include team building and leadership skill building as a part of the planning, as well as a Strategic IQ Audit similiar to a yearly financial audit. It ultimately leads to updating the Strategic Plan on a yearly basis, another new, yet common-sense, concept.
Specifics obviously depend on whether the company is in the public, private, or not-for-profit sector. This process has been used by a variety of groups, including educators, boards of directors of community-based organizations, and volunteers involved in community-development efforts in rural and urban areas. However, all of those who seriously build this Strategic Man­agement System based on their StrategicPlan are well on their way to achieving their Ideal Future Vision. To bring about change that is long-term, equitable, and sustainable, it is necessary to go through the process, measure the results, and then use those results to determine how the work can be improved and what work remains to be done.

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