'Be the change that you want to see' in public relations

'Be the change that you want to see' in public relations


cipr_cymru_stephen This is the text of a speech that I gave at the CIPR Cymru Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Cardiff tonight.

As with all my speeches it’s what I intended to say rather than what I actually said.

The business of public relations is shifting from publicity to influencer relations. We’re helping organizations to create their own media and to engage direct with publics via social networks.

We’re helping organizations to become social. In 2015 public relations has a role in every department of a modern organization.

Thanks for inviting me to speak tonight. I want to talk about the relevance, reinvention and reputation of public relations.

Rediscovering our vision and purpose

The CIPR spent last year getting back to basics and focusing the organisation on its vision and purpose as outlined in the Royal Charter that we received from the Privy Council in 2005.

The CIPR is unusual, like other Chartered organizations, in having its vision and purpose enshrined so formally. But that focus is helpful in defining our priorities.

Our purpose is to promote the highest level of professionalism in public relations through skills, knowledge, and research. We exist simply to serve the public interest and advance the expertise of our members.

Public relations is increasingly recognized as a management discipline, and is represented at the highest levels in organizations.

But we face two fundamental challenges to our future: firstly, adopting the rigor of a profession in a bid to improve our reputation, and secondly, modernizing the application of practice.

To support that case this evening I want to talk through 15 areas that I see as critical, based on my 12-months as President of the CIPR meeting practitioners at events such as this and my professional practice at Ketchum.

So here we go. 15 areas of reinvention in 15 minutes. Set your watches.

#1 Demise of demographics

Traditional marketing models based on age, gender, location and income no longer work. Marketing segmentation was never that simple but in 2015 social media subverts all norms and hierarchies. Listen, and I mean really listen, and then let’s have a conversation based on what I say, and more importantly, what I do.

#2 Multimedia, multi-channel

This isn’t a throwback to CD ROMs and the 90s but is instead a nod to channel integration. I met a radio presenter last month who said social media had given his career a shot in the arm and had become almost as important as his daily broadcasts. The feedback loop and direct relationship with an audience created by a combination of media is incredibly potent. Choose your media wisely.

#3 Facebook knows

Stories in 2014 of the death of the social network giant were wholly unfounded. Facebook is truly becoming a utility. Now a decade old it has 850 million daily users (September 2014). It’s like the phone network but much more powerful. Facebook’s understanding of human relationships is incredible fodder for marketing and public relations, psychology, and in time, history itself.

#4 Difficult conversations

There’s a game that I play whenever I have an idle five minutes. I tweet brands that sponsor content on Twitter and ask them a question. Do it and see how often you get a response. The use of industrialized marketing tactics in social media has got to stop. Consumers are starting to fight back and this approach certainly won’t work in messaging networks.

#5 No comment

Publishers and brands are turning off comments across the web. That’s because conversations take place across the social sites that readers choose and are rarely on the original publisher’s site. I use a WordPress plug-in on my blog to hoover up comments from across the web.

#6 Stop posting shit on the Internet

Brands are increasingly becoming over enthusiastic on social networks in a bid to seize the moment. This issue particularly relates to the rise of so-called content marketing. The results are polarized between the minority of campaigns that are rooted in listening and engagement, and the majority that make a lame effort to tame the zeitgeist and churn out bland content.

#7 Third party tools

A burgeoning tool market has emerged to support campaign planning across fragmented forms of media and devices. Be careful as there’s barrel loads of snake oil and solutions looking for a problem. Think hard about your workflow and how you can best integrate tools to deliver against your campaign objectives. Challenge vendors to demonstrate how their tools can help you deliver the outcomes that you need.

#8 Internal influencers

The best advocates for an organisation are almost certainly the people on the payroll. Yet most organizations gag their employees with policies and rules. Equal effort should be applied to external and internal publics. My tip would be to always start with your internal stakeholders and work out.

#9 Pigs, lipstick and authenticity

In 2015 any gap between what an organisation does and what it says will be called out. You can see the result day in day out played out across social forms of media. Traditional media frequently harvests lousy examples from Facebook or Twitter. You can put lipstick on a pig but it will still be a pig.

#10 End of the line

The future of the media remains a work in progress. Publishers and networks are all trying to figure out how to develop sustainable business models. In order to optimise campaign investment, paid media may need to be integrated into earned campaigns and earned media into paid campaigns. Public relations practitioners need to get over the fact that sometimes you simply have to pay for it.

#11 Show me the money

If you can’t show the return on investment for your work you can’t expect to receive appropriate remuneration for your effort. It’s not rocket science; it’s basic economics. AMEC’s Valid Metric Frameworks and Google’s channel attribution model are good starting points.

#12 Vision and values

Organizations without a clear vision and values will really struggle in an era of fragmented media. There’s simply too much noise. The purpose of an organisation should be rooted in its values and core to every aspect of its communication. Values should define what an organisation says and does as much as what it doesn’t. The CIPR over the last decade is an excellent case study.

#13 Once upon a time

The Cannes International Festival of Creativity teaches us that memorable brands tell stories that respond to the motivation of their public or audience across all forms of media. Award winning work is based on smart creative. The content frequently engages the audience directly as part of the campaign. Tell me a story.

#14 Higher purpose

Public relations increasingly has a role in every area of an organisation. It’s shifting from the communication department to human resources, customer service, sales and product development. It is the ears, eyes and mouth of an organisation, and increasingly the conscience.

#15 Continuous learning

Upgrading skills to work across all forms of media is an ongoing work in progress, much like our business itself. We’re moving from being generalists to having broad knowledge of our discipline and specialist knowledge in an area such as research, planning, strategy or content. Never stop reading or learning.

I want to finish where I started and talk about the future of the CIPR.

‘What is the CIPR doing about the reputation of the profession’ was a common demand I heard during my year as President.

As we’d tell any organisation that we work with, there are no shortcuts.

My view is straightforward. The route to public relations improving its reputation starts with it getting its own house in order.

Route to professionalism

That starts with education and qualifications.

Next, practitioners need to sign up to a Code of Conduct that can be publicly tested as a foundation for practice and commit to continuous learning and development.

The future of the reputation of the public relations profession starts with you all signing up to these basic tenets of professional practice.

There are estimated to be 62,000 public relations practitioners in the UK.

The CIPR has 10,000 members of which around a fifth have made a commitment to Continuous Professional Development (CPD). That’s woeful.

If you haven’t committed to membership of your Chartered organisation, and invested time and effort in your own professional development, please consider this as a call to action.

I hope in future years we’ll be able to have another conversation about the progress that we’ve made. Only then will we start to address the reputation of our business.

"Be the change that you want to see" in public relations. Your profession needs you.

Thanks to Freshwater Wales (@FreshwaterWales) for sharing the images posted in this blog post via Twitter.

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