Recoding public relations

PR Genome conference New York 2015

Having co-founded, built and sold a PR consultancy. Having written a book on reframing marketing and PR for the digital age that's now recommended reading across a number of under- and post-graduate courses. Having made some of the first presentations to the PR profession on the implications of the Internet of Things, the Semantic Web, and machined media. And having co-founded the CIPR's prolific social media group, I have it appears left the profession. And for some good time now.

I've taken the best the PR profession and academe have to offer the world, and then determinedly escaped its narrow practice. I've found I can now offer consultancy that isn't framed by preconceived ideas of PR. I can combine it with management consultancy more broadly, with org design and social business, with digital transformation and web science, without anyone saying "that's not PR!"

It does I admit help that I am a chartered engineer. Engineering is my nature. I will always be an engineer, but my association with PR is always framed these days in the past tense, if only to disassociate myself from inadequate and inappropriate context.

21st Century public relations isn't a synonym for media relations, or earned media, or simply "communications" come to that. It isn't publicity or, worse, spin. It isn't a side function and it's definitely ill-suited as a marketing function.

Modern PR must focus on reality not perceptions; not merely "managing reputation" but addressing the deep operational and cultural causes of reputation.

Modern PR can no longer be a profession that picks up those graduates who can't really decide what else to do. It cannot provide refuge for the innumerate, for those averse to process, for those with little appreciation for the broader facets of business.

The profession of public relations entails the planned and sustained effort to influence opinion and behaviour, and to be influenced similarly, in order to build mutual understanding and goodwill. The process is critical to growing and maintaining relevance, reputation and trust, and therefore public relations is central to setting and achieving organisational objectives.

Please do read that last paragraph again, but with this in mind ... influence is not the sole domain of the public relations team, but rather its effort is to facilitate everyone else's facility to influence and be influenced appropriately.

As emergent strategy increasingly trumps the deliberate, as the more responsive organisation trounces the merely efficient, as more people appreciate that modern organisation isn't defined by its payroll, the effectiveness with which influence flows between all those sharing your purpose is a critical factor for innovation, for sustainability, for organisational success.

On one hand you may consider my observations here arrogant. On the other, I hope you see I remain a fan of PR's potential.

The PR Genome Project: Recoding Now

With all that said, I wasn't too concerned traveling to participate at the PR Council's conference in New York last week; I had after all had the pleasure to geek out, for want of a better phrase, with the event's designer and host some months earlier. Ogilvy Chairman Christopher Graves gets what I'm saying here. He's worked it out – and quite possibly way before I knew anything at all about public relations myself.

The view from the Rainbow Room, Rockefeller Plaza
The view from the Rainbow Room, Rockefeller Plaza

Christopher curated a conference filled with insight and perspectives that should have every delegate leaving with a transformed understanding of their and their profession's role, and I'm delighted to have been invited. I won't precis the sessions here as this post on the PR Council blog does that admirably. Punning on the altitude at which the conference took place (on the 65th floor of Rockefeller Plaza), the post concludes:

Once you’ve experienced the heights of PR, things never look quite the same.

I was particularly delighted by the contribution from Kristian Hammond, Chief Scientist at Narrative Science (see the video appended here). I introduced the concept of machined media at the CIPR Social Media Conference 2011, and Kristian clearly demonstrated that prime time for machined media has arrived. Four years have passed since that CIPR event and I still don't know of one instance where a PR professional has published structured data to accompany 'the story'. Please do comment here if you know of any examples ... there must be some!

I wrote Attenzi – a social business story to make the broad and deep vista contemplated in good part by last week's event more accessible, more compelling, more communicable, and not too infrequently I am then asked if I'm satisfied with the rate at which the PR profession is changing; yet that question might come at the problem space and the opportunity from too oblique an angle.

Change happens. The direction and rate of change in PR is as subject to competitive pressure as anything else. I believe the PR Genome conference nailed it – both the nature and unprecedented speed of change – but what sticks depends on what works. There will be evolution and revolution. There will be leaders and there will be followers. There will be those described as PR professionals and there will be others, and what works may or may not be referred to in future as PR, if only perhaps to disassociate, like me, future from past practice.

What do you think?...