A new world order in Public Relations is born. It comes with loads of opportunities and mountains of challenges. In this new world, only the courageous will survive. Public Relations professionals will have to recalibrate their thinking, re-examine the methods of their work and take on new roles not known to Public Relations before. Only then can they meet the needs of their organizations or client, and remain relevant in the new scheme of things.
Innovations, flow of capital, 24/7 communication technologies and globalization have changed the way we live and work. Competition in local and international markets has gone to new heights never before known in the history of mankind. Democracy has given voice to the voiceless. Businesses and governments are now at the smack center of increasing social confrontation, forcing them to rethink the ways they engage with their stakeholders. The world’s economic and social order has changed forever, so has PR.
WHAT IS PR’s NEW WORLD?
It is a period in the history of PR in which the familiar methods of thinking and of work are rendered inadequate as a result of dramatic changes in the PR environment. It is the time in which tested structures of Public Relations work have collapsed or are collapsing; a time when Public Relations media and methods that held sway for so many years are failing to produce the expected results; and a time when tested theories such as Two-Step Flow of Information, Agenda Setting, Spiral of Silence and Formation of Public Opinion theories that once guided PR practitioners to develop and implement successful PR campaigns have been rendered useless by the social media.
In sum, the new world of Public Relations is a period when the fluid matter of new PR ideas, new PR perspectives, new PR strategies and new PR tactics have run into a new mold and become hardened into a new form in response to phenomenal changes in how the world works.
When Robert Philips wrote about the new world in his book: TRUST ME: PR IS DEAD, many PR professionals felt bad that the former CEO of Edelman, a leading global PR firm, would chose such an alarmist title for his book and threw away his message. Whereas, Robert Philips used the alarmist title to forcefully draw our attention to PR’s structural collapse that was and is still taking place. He was giving PR professionals a wake-up call to save them from extinction. He was indirectly telling us that the new world is not for sissies or the intellectually lazy and that those who are still stuck in the old, discredited tradition of publicity for publicity’s sake will soon die professionally; and so will journalists, marketers, advertising practitioners and all others who cross over to PR without the requisite training and mastery of PR’s body of knowledge.
FEATURES OF THE NEW WORLD
What defines the new world that PR professionals must understand or master in order to succeed? In the course of my work and research, I have been able to spot six features. Let’s look at them in turn.
- A new media landscape
24/7 Communication Technologies are driving continuous changes in the media landscape globally. Not so long ago PR professionals got their messages across to their target audience through newspapers/magazines, radio and television with ease, and with some level of certainty. Not anymore. News websites on the Internet, blogs and social network platforms have long fragmented the media landscape beyond measure. Reaching out to stakeholders and publics of any organization now requires a multiplicity of channels.
How about message control? That was only in years gone by when PR professionals worked only with the traditional media. Today, PR professionals have to contend with individual publishers and digital influencers scattered all over the globe.
Today, PESO Model – the use of paid, earned, shared and owned media – is the only way to go. Any professional who does not understand how to apply it is extinct.
- Adoption of stakeholder thinking
Democracy and the dispersion of power to several disparate entities in the society has forced the adoption of Stakeholder Thinking on organizations. The needs of these disparate entities must be met for the organization to have its social license to operate. Therefore, stakeholder engagement is no longer an option but the central focus of business operations. Stakeholders are now assets that must be protected and cultivated continually through dialogue, consultations and involvement so as to have their trust, loyalty and support in peace and crisis times.
Today stakeholder relations management is not a function left to managers alone. It has assumed a strategic importance. Recently, Marvyn King, a South African Lawyer, noted in his King 3 Report that relationships with stakeholders have now become the primary responsibility of Board of Directors and that managers need to regularly monitor and govern those stakeholders by reporting specifically to the board at each of its meetings. This is not a trend in South Africa alone. It is now a standard of good corporate governance.
What does this mean for PR professionals? It means they must understand that globalization has extended the range of stakeholders organizations now have to contend with. Most businesses now have to consider global NGOs, International Associations, Trade agreements global consumer networks, and many others, as stakeholders.
It also means that they need to acknowledge and factor in social and environmental expectations far beyond the immediate environment of the organizations they represent. Therefore, an appreciation of relevant international industrial codes/regulations, association guidelines and UN membership guidelines is a must.
What’s more? PR professionals must master stakeholder segmentation and prioritization, and recognize that most social and ethical concerns of stakeholders are now managed in the public sphere using social media. They must monitor, spot and address these concerns in real time if they are to win reputation battles for their organizations.
- Success is defined by metrics
In PR’s new world, success is defined by metrics. Organization and clients are asking for returns on their investments in PR. PR professionals must therefore be able to demonstrate how their efforts have moved the needle in the direction of the goals and objectives their organizations want to achieve.
Certainly, these are no times when measures such as Advertising Values Equivalents (AVEs) are accepted. Amassing news clippings to show how much media coverage has been garnered are no longer seen as measures of success. PR professionals must be able to show in very clear metrics how their works have impacted on the objectives of their organizations. And the only way this can be done is to operationalize the Barcelona Principles, the first global standards for PR measurement launched in 2010 by International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) in Barcelona State, Italy. Interestingly, AMEC’s new Integrated Evaluation framework published in June 2016 shows how to operationalize the seven principles, covering measures across all PESO channels – paid, earned, shared and owned media channels.
- Integration of forms of communication
Social media and other Internet technologies have forced marketing, PR, Publishing and Advertising to use the same tools and work together in most instances to produce the best brand images for organizations.
Trans-media story-telling communication channels such as social networking sites, image sharing sites, micro-blogging channels, blogging, Smartphone apps and online games are now used for PR, marketing, publishing and advertising purposes. Only traditional vehicles, such as events and media relations, are left to PR.
Integration between PR and marketing is even stronger. Patrick Coffee of MediaBistro reports that within five years, there will no longer be a discussion about the difference between marketing and PR. As if his prophecy is coming true, CIPR state of PR 2016 reports that traditional marketing-led tasks such as copywriting, branding, sponsorship and strategic partnership are increasingly found with PR teams today.
Back in 2014, Weber Shandwick’s Research Report showed that PR and marketing functions were merging into one. The study reported an increasingly shift to dual roles in appointments globally. New job titles such as Chief Marketing and Communication Officer, VP strategic Marketing and Corporate Communication and the like were on the rise. It also reported that the number of Chief Communication Officers (CCOs) who had both communication and marketing responsibilities increased by 35% between 2012 and 2014.
Global Communication Report 2016 produced by University of Southern California’s Center for Public Relations and The Holmes Report shows that organizations are not just asking for integrated communication solutions to enable them engage their multiple stakeholders, they are putting their monies where their mouths are.
According to the report, around a third of the average in-house department budget is being spent on earned media, 32.1% on owned media such as blogs and websites, 17.0% on paid media and 16.4% on social or shared media. It also reports that the shift away from earned media is expected to continue over the next five years.
- Globalization of PR
Globalization has forced on us a global approach to all PR works. PR professionals now operate in Thomas Friedman’s flat world, where borders that once limited our thinking to our immediate geographical environment have crumbled and make all organizations global whether they like it or not; where the creative actions of a few technologically innovative individuals like Mark Zuckerberg are creating immense pressures on businesses to do things differently; where economic concepts and order are crumbing giving way to the speed of change never before witnessed in the history of humanity; and where information and communication technologies have leveled the playing fields in commerce thus creating equal opportunities for competition.
This information era has made the world so porous such that news and events can race across time and space with such a speed that could not even be imagined some years past. A damaging corporate news in a remote town in Akwa Ibom State is received in USA, most times, as it is happening. PR professionals are expected to pay more attention to ethics, corporate social responsibility and sustainability issues no matter where their organizations operate. Cultural sensitivity in all communication and relationship building efforts is a strong yardstick for success today. We must recognize that even humour is not universal.”Think global; act local” is the standard in this new world of PR.
- Expansion of PR’s remit
Organizations are now relying on PR to play a central role in defining, building and defending their brands. This requires communication and relationship management solutions that cut across paid, earned, shared and owned media. This has given birth to five new roles for PR practitioners, namely:
i. Online Community Manager Role – his or her responsibility is to build and maintain online communities around organizations and/or their brands.
ii. Social Business Manager Role – involves the use of technology; such as CRM platforms, to enhance communication, collaboration and insights into the behaviour of an organization’s stakeholders.
iii. Digital Influencer Relationship Manager Role – has responsibility to identify, build and maintain relationships with anyone who commands influence in social networks and on blogs.
iv. PR Culture Builder Role – responsibility for building a corporate culture where corporate relationships are nurtured by staff as a strategic resource. This involves, staff education and training geared towards developing communication, relationship management and conflict resolution competencies.
v. Litigation Communicator Role – involves the management of communication to win in the court of public opinion, especially during the pre-trial period of legal disputes.
OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES
The Internet has been a gold mine to PR professionals. Social media has made the fortune even greater. A smart phone connected to the Internet is all it takes to learn what stakeholders of an organization think and feel about an issue. And you can engage in direct dialogue to resolve the problem.
Today, it’s far easier to establish and build relationships directly with customers, fans, journalists and influencers. Social Network sites provide the platforms, and you don’t have to pay. Cision’s State of the Media 2016 Report say 73% of journalists use social media to build relationships. That’s a plus for PR professionals.
What’s more! We can distribute contents, from news releases to photographs, videos or presentations to wider audience with greater ease through social media. Really Simple Syndication (RSS) Feeds, for instance, enables you to send company news and information updates to stakeholders as soon as they are posted and without their having to search for it. That’s a lot more power to PR professionals.
Are there challenges? Yes. This new world is an era of continuous technological disruption. Unfortunately, PR people are only playing catch-up. When Ryan Kavanaugh advised that the key is to embrace disruption and change early, we were still sleeping. The consequence is lack of skilled digital talents to get us in tandem with other communication professionals.
The advent of social media marked the end of message control. Traditional media that used to help PR professionals in that regard have lost their gate-keeping power to citizen’s journalism. Today, a disgruntled person with a smart phone can publish diatribe about our clients or organizations for global consumption. We have to monitor new media channels by the minute, track and get into conversation in real time when necessary so that bad news are quickly dealt with to save the reputation of our organizations or clients.
It is true that social media makes it easy to track crisis, but it also makes its management difficult. Crisis spreads at the speed of thought through social media. You can’t even fathom how far it has gone. An organization can get into big trouble just because of the action or actions of a member of staff.
This is what happened to Kitchenaid. A careless, insensitive tweet by its staff about Obama’s grandmother went viral and put the company on collision course with the American President. It took the quick intervention of Cynthia Soledad, the head of the brand, who quickly deleted the tweet and apologized to the President, to save the day.
Which Way Forward?
How can professionals measure up and deliver value in this new era?
Here are my honest suggestions:
- Embrace continuous, live-long learning in the field. That is the fact of life in this millennium.
- Specialize. A lifetime is not enough to master all aspects of Public Relations.
- Collaborate more. Enter into mutual support agreements with other specialists in the profession so you can pool them together as project teams to deliver value to your clients or organization.
- When recruiting new talents, spread your tentacles to other professions such as law, IT and marketing and get them to master PR’s body of knowledge. The era for Public Relations to reach its full potential is now. But we can’t capture the moment if we lag behind in the knowledge, skills and attitudes of the time. Burying our heads in the past is a defense mechanism. We must defeat it and rise up to the occasion for our profession.