Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Time for a little blue sky thinking? If public relations has outlived its raison d’être what is its future?

The findings of the latest International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO) 2012 Q2 Trends Barometer[1]show what everybody already suspects – that PR consultancies need to be creative in their client work in order to succeed. Creativity in strategy and tactical implementation are core to any campaign proposal but is this really the only reason we risk losing out to the increasing number of our competitors? 

Richard Linning, Scholar-in-Residence

Blue sky thinking is a truly horrendous management cliché.  But some brainstorming without limits and without preconceptions might actually help to determine what could nudge public relations further towards the standards of practice and public and client acceptance to which we aspire.  To extend our reach beyond our grasp.  After all one of the basic tenets of blue sky thinking is never to assume that something is impossible. 

There is and has been for some time something rotten in the state of public relations.  Reference to any barometer of trust confirms that.  And perception as we know is reality.  PR’s greatest challenge is to slough off the often quite justified pejorative reputation of “spending money to minimize bad publicity” or “hiring someone to help [the government] ‘spin’,”[2]  

Public relations as practiced today is neither what it was yesterday nor what it will be tomorrow.  The origins of public relations are firmly rooted in propaganda.  As Edward Bernays said, "What I do is propaganda, and I just hope it's not impropaganda."   What he did he achieved through third-party endorsement.  As Professor Tim Traverse-Healy – IPRA’s first Honorary Secretary General and President from 1969 to 1973 – recalls “when in 1947 I had just put up my plate what we practitioners talked about were releases, share of voice, column inches, image, identity, deadlines and the familiarity-favourability factor”.  

In 1978, the World Assembly of Public Relations Associations claimed  "public relations is the art and social science of analysing trends, predicting their consequences, counselling organisational leaders and implementing planned programmes of action which will serve both the organisation’s and the public interest".  

   For many an aspiration echoed in the 2010 Stockholm Accords’ call to enhance and affirm the role of the public relations and communication manager in organisational success[3]. Truth to tell in this year of 2012,  nine-to-five, most practitioners are more 1947 rather than 1978. The raison d’être of practice yesterday and today is securing that all-important third-party endorsement; facilitating the “Don’t believe what we say, listen to what the others are saying about us” whether it is in print, hits, likes, shares, retweets etc etc .  

Measurement of success was always been the bug-bear.  The best that the great and the good of the measurement community could agree on in the Barcelona Declaration was that public relations goals should be as quantitative as possible.  But then the turkeys that are the competing measurement franchise holders couldn’t be expected to vote for an industry standard Christmas, could they?   AVE’s still rule, OK!  The International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO) 2011 Q3 Trends Barometer[4] showed continuing strong support for Advertising Value Equivalents (AVE's) as legitimate measurement of PR campaigns. The evaluation method most used – “number of mentions” (75%). 

Despite the implied  limitations of what the 1978 World Assembly of Public Relations Associations called “the public interest”, the previous and new IPRA Code of Conduct are predicated on the right of everyone to air their opinion.  But does the libertarian argument for the exercise of this right in a pluralist, and increasingly transparent world always hold true?  

Cultures are at the core of every civilisation, and from these cultural foundations develop social practices in every domain of human activity.  Doesn’t Islamic civilisation, the community of believers, the umma, include several dozen states? Modern Western civilisation consist of states on three continents? The Hindu and the Buddhist inhabit numerous Asian states?  

How can the competing rights of these competing groups to be heard to be reconciled within civil society when each one is more articulate and more outspoken?   And more likely to turn to public relations for advocacy?  More tolerance, more respect for the opinions of others or less?  On the one hand the Norwegian response to the likes of Anders Breivik has been to advocate more not less tolerance, on the other the British government has responsed to telephone hacking and blagging by the British – not just the Murdoch – media with proposals to tighten controls on what and what cannot be published.  

Since we have been “outed” as message manipulators, cannot agree on how value-added can be measured, yet take the moral ground on freedom of speech ..  where to now?  There are important questions, far more important than those of mere process, of how to exploit for profit the latest advances in digital technology, that need to be addressed :  

+ propaganda is our past, is it also our future?  
+ public relations itself has become the story.  Can Pandora be put back in its box?
+ what really is the added value of pr?  Are there universally applicable metrics?
+ how do we to respect diversity and difference?
+ asked to do something ethical for a client acting unethically, what do we do?
Perhaps if we all engage in some brainstorming without limits or preconceptions – some blue sky thinking - we will come up with the answers.  

Richard Linning



Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Are we ready to be skilled public relations professionals?

I came to this personal reflection as I witnessed rapid and unstoppable environmental changes I believe have influenced public relations practices worldwide. There is no doubt the public relations practice has become multinational and multicultural in nature, due to internationalization and globalization. But something keeps bothering me: are we, as public relations professionals, ready to face these challenges?

Over the last couple decades, the number of multinational corporations as well as its employees has significantly increased. From only 24 million employees working at multinational corporations in 1990, the number increased to 54 million in 2001 and reached 69 million in 2011 (UNCTD, 2002, 2012). While there were approximately 65,000 parent corporations controlling 850,000 foreign affiliates in 2001, this number had reached 103,000 parent corporations controlling more than 890,000 foreign affiliates across the world in 2011 (UNCTD, 2002, 2012).  These multinationals, of course, have to deal with employees, governments, partners, suppliers, and customers from different cultural backgrounds. But have we developed the ability to both recognize cross-cultural differences and adjust to these differences?

In line with the growing number of multinational corporations, there is increasing economic activity in some countries. Despite the global economy crisis in 2008-2009, global foreign direct investment flows rose by 16% in 2011 with more than 50% of the investments going to developing and transitioning countries’ economies (UNCTD, 2012). The World Investment Prospects Survey conducted by United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTD) revealed that multinational corporations’ executives chose 6 developing and transitioning countries’ economies among the top 10 prospective destinations for investment plans in 2012 to 2014. These are China (1st), India (3rd), Indonesia (4th), Brazil (5th), Russian Federation (7th), and Thailand (7th).  For the first time, Indonesia entered the top five destinations, which raised two levels from 2011 survey. The other four destinations are developed countries, i.e. United States (2nd), Australia (6th), United Kingdom (6th), and Germany (7th). As we are increasingly being forced to enter new markets such as Asia? How will we predict or even decide which strategy might work well in one country and not in another?

Combined with the globalization movement, democratization in many parts of the world at the end of 20th century has also urged organizations to allocate more resources to manage relationships within its diverse publics. In the early 1990s there was no country that could be considered a democracy. However, since the fall of Nazism and Fascism and more former Soviet bloc countries moving toward a more pluralistic society, the number of countries that embrace civil liberties and free societies has increased. In 1950, there were 33 free countries and in 2011 that number reached 87. As a result, emerging democracies around the world have led to the growth of public communication, which has impacted to the need of more skilled public relations practitioners. Are we also ready for this?

To fulfill the needs of vast multinational corporations’ operations, global public relations agencies are growing. In 2006, the global public relations agency business was estimated to have been worth $7 billion and employ more than 50,000 people worldwide (The Holmes Report, 2007). The latest report shows the business keeps growing. It has reached $10 billion in 2011 and employs more than 66,000 people worldwide, with 107 countries (this is more than half of the total number of countries in the world, i.e. 193 countries including Taiwan) having a representation of at least one of the top ten global agencies.

These figures clearly show public relations has become a significant global business. The trend also shows a significant global public relations development in Asia, with some countries such as China, India, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, and Taiwan having at least eight offices belonging to different top ten major global public relations agencies. This may be due to increased economic activity and investment in Asia. In spite of this growth, there is still a lack of strategy applied by global public relations agencies that suits local conditions, as most agencies continue to replicate other global strategies.

So, within this situation are we, as public relations professionals, prepared to practice effectively across borders? With a more globalized world, how should we develop understanding and skills that enable us to conduct public relations practices across cultures, languages, time zones, and other complexities? Has public relations scholarship provided adequate models and information we can follow? This remains to be seen.

By Gregoria Yudarwati
Scholar in Residence

Monday, August 6, 2012

What I learned from my Travels to Xiamen, China

In June I traveled to Xiamen, China, to teach a course in Rhetoric for the Speech Communication department of Xiamen University.  Like UNC Charlotte, Xiamen University prides itself on being innovative.  Communication Studies in China predominantly studies media, advertising and journalism, but Speech Communication at Xiamen proposes to be the vanguard Chinese program for broadly studying human communication, including public relations.  Our department hopes to collaborate with Xiamen in that quest.
I can hardly claim to be a world traveler, but here are a few observations that I hope are worthwhile:

Travelling and working in China is rather easy.  I encountered none of the delays I was warned about in my airline travel.  I did not need to do any currency exchange prior to travelling--the ATM honored my credit union card and charged me a lower fee--$1.38-- than I would have paid at a "guest" ATM machine back home.  Many signs and menus are bilingual, with English listed alongside the Mandarin.  Even at the traditional fishing village of Gulangyu Island, where no cars or bicycles are allowed, the police station was clearly labeled--POLICE.

The Chinese economy continues to boom.  Xiamen is a port town and a tourist destination, and it was doing plenty of both while I was there.  Shipping traffic in the harbor was brisk.  Timber and the ubiquitous containers comprised the bulk of the freight I saw.  The crowds of tourists--and the volume of tourism advertising on Chinese TV--speak to the rise in their discretionary income.  The cars I saw came from every country imaginable and almost all were very new.  The name for old cars seems to be "taxi."

The Chinese are prepared to embrace the new.  As I prepared for my class, the received wisdom was that Chinese students have been trained to expect that answers are either right or wrong.  I was worried, because rhetoric is the study of nuance and ambiguity, where the answer is usually "maybe," or, "it depends."  My thirty-five students enthusiastically embraced the uncertainties and complexities about communication that we explored.  Further, their English was very good, as was their appreciation for the global possibilities offered by the world's rapidly changing technology.  These are students ready for the 21st century, and everything it has to offer.

Business in China is still built upon personal relationships.  Although I was not working in a corporate setting, it was clear that my Xiamen counterparts, like us Americans, understand that there is a substantial business side to higher education.  It was also clear that our business of collaborating must begin with a strong foundation of "getting to know you."  It is a pleasant way of conducting business, but it does require patience.  If public relations is indeed the practice of building relationships, China will provide rich terrain for the profession.

If I committed any intercultural faux pas while abroad, my Chinese friends were kind enough not to point them out.  I know I came close on several occasions, however, but remembered just in time the sage advice given to Debra Winger in Cannery Row: when in doubt about the etiquette, move half a beat slower than those around you, and do what they do. 

By Richard Leeman
Professor, Department of Communication Studies, UNC Charlotte

Be looking out for Dr. Leeman's article in the Center for Global Public Relation's newsletter, the Blue Book! Accessible at the end of August at:

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Value of Public Relations Across Borders

What I Learned from the 2012 London Seminar in International Public Relations:

There is a definite difference between studying abroad in order to learn a language and studying abroad for professional advancement. The 2012 London Seminar in International Public Relations was  my second time studying abroad, second time visiting the United Kingdom but my first time exploring a foreign city as an aspiring public relations professional. Public relations will continue to be an evolving profession and London is the perfect city to study public relations in an international setting; I could not have been more excited.

I developed two conclusions from my experience abroad in London.  First, I cannot expect others to accept or understand my culture and background if I do not accept and understand theirs. Every nation’s culture is uniquely its own; The United States is the United States and England is England. One must separate a new culture from his or her own in order to embrace it. I cannot expect American standards in a non-American country. Second, I will stand out as an American everywhere I go. Even if I changed the way I dressed, I cannot change my behaviour norms or the way I carry myself, both derived from growing up in the United States.

Cross-cultural relations are valuable and the need for public relations will increase in today’s evolving world. From my experience abroad, I believe that I must continue to develop a stronger understanding of the many social, political, economic and cultural differences that affect communication around the world. Channels of communication will change as technologies advance but relationships and meaningful dialogue are imperative no matter which medium is used. After all, aren’t all great brands built upon effective communication between its organization and its relevant constituencies?

My definition of public relations strengthened and broadened because my experience from the London Seminar in International Public Relations. Please visit the student-made website for more information about this study abroad program. 

by Irene Tang
Manager, Global PR Resources and Services Unit

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Would You Replace the News Release?

     This morning I read an article on PR Daily regarding replacing the news release with a blog. The author, Jeremy Porter, discusses several reasons that he thinks blogs are a better PR move than the news release. Several of these reasons are that blogs are cheaper, you can have an archive, you can track the results, and you can gain reader's feedback.

     A final point that Porter made was that blogs are read more frequently than news releases and thus, would be shared with more people than the news release. Porter suggests companies notifying its audiences that it will be posting all its information on a blog from here on and that they should subscribe to it for updates. This way its audience would receive all its news immediately without waiting on a news release. 

     What do you think about this idea?

     Personally, I think it is an idea that makes sense. Within time, I could certainly see companies moving toward this trend. Most major companies have a blog site already that posts a lot of information regarding the company. A main issue regarding this idea is that some countries do not have easy internet access yet and for international companies with international audiences, this could be an issue. That is where the news release becomes so important because it is so versatile.

8 Reasons to Dump Press Releases for a Blog

By Jaclyn Harris
Associate Manager

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Cold Off the Press!

     Today I read an article entitled "For Newspapers, a Less than Daily Future" on the American Journalism Review Website. This article speaks about how Newhouse papers in New Orleans and Alabama are seeing print reductions to save money and appeal to the increasing population of the digital age. 

     Both of these daily publications will begin only printing three times a week starting in September 2012. This is a trend that is becoming more popular throughout the United States. However, even though many are jumping on board with the digital news age, some cities, like New Orleans, are unhappy with the printing reductions. The article stated that there was even a rally in New Orleans this week over the printing reduction, but professionals do not see Newhouse changing its mind. 

     Professionals are interested to see how these changes affect the relationship between the readers and the newspapers. Could this be the beginning of the end of the newspaper as we knew it?

     I personally like newspapers entering the digital age. I think it is so convenient to have the news at your fingertips whenever you want. With smart phones as capable as they are now, there are no limits as to where you can receive the daily headlines and breaking news. Internet access comes at such rapid speed in the United States that, in my opinion, it makes sense to take advantage of that. I can see how big news companies can lose the relationship with its readers by posting all its articles online, but at the same time, companies like CNN and FOX already do this and its publics are still present. 

     I think this is a topic very relevant to public relations practitioners around the world. For instance, our main newspaper in Charlotte, NC,  is the Charlotte Observer; it is online and in print. Since it is online, essentially anyone can see its content. If I wrote a news release and promoted it to the Charlotte Observer, anyone around the world could receive my message. The power of our words are only continuing to grow, giving us even more responsibility.

     What do you think about newspapers becoming "cold" within your smart phone or computer? Do you like the idea of holding a print copy of your newspaper or would you like to see the digital age grow?

     What about in your own country? Are you seeing similar reductions outside the United States? How does this relate to public relations in your country?

For Newspapers, a Less than Daily Future

By Jaclyn Harris
Associate Manager

Monday, June 4, 2012

Networking Tips for the PR Student

     The moment you step into your first public relations class you are taught how important it is to be networking. You will hear it over and over again: it’s all about who you know. But for many young students, it is hard to know where to start. Going to your first PR social event can be quite nerve racking. Standing in a room full of talented PR Practitioners can be intimidating, but you cannot let fear stop you from making professional connections. Here are some tips to help get you started in the not-so-scary world of networking.
  • Start out small: Talk to friends or mentors, people in your inner circle. See who they have as connections. Perhaps you can ask for an introduction.
  • Look for a familiar face: When you attend social events, take a friend with you or look for someone who have seen at functions before. You might be able to gain some guidance from them.
  • Be confident: Remember to be professional and ask questions. Do not cower in the corner; move about and introduce yourself to new people.
  • Follow up: Do not appear as a "schmoozer." You want to keep your new connections, right? Be sure to hand out a business card and follow up with an email or a phone call everyone in while to keep in touch. 
  • Dealing with Rejection: Do not be afraid of getting rejected. Be open to taking risks and asking about positions.
For more tips on networking, be sure to check out these websites:

By Caity Weiss
Associate Manager

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

How LinkedIn Are You?

     In today's growing social media world, it is becoming more and more important for young professionals to be present in the world of LinkedIn. When used correctly, the facets of this website can be very helpful, whether you are searching for a job, marketing a brand, or promoting your company. 

     As you begin to delve into the world of LinkedIn, there are several things to keep in mind as you're making your professional profile. The Mashable Social Media Blog has several articles posted that can give young professionals tips and guidelines about how to make their LinkedIn profile. I have linked a few specific articles at the end of this blog. Just remember that the ultimate goal of your LinkedIn profile is to provide organization of your experience and opportunities for your success. Below are a few tips that I have included from my own personal experience creating my LinkedIn:

1. Keep it current. Don't forget to update your profile with jobs, schooling and skills.
2. Join Groups. Don't only just join groups, but also comment in discussions. 
3. Include summaries of your job descriptions. Post what your role is at your current and past jobs so that potential employers can see what you are capable of.
4. Include courses. List the courses that you took at the university you attended so that employers can see that you had applicable schooling for the position you are trying to get.
5. Don't post personal information. Remember, LinkedIn is a professional site. You're employer does not need to know information about your family or friends.
6. Leave high school behind. It is irrelevant to include what high school you went to or jobs that you had in high school.
7. Ask for recommendations. Recommendations is a unique application on LinkedIn. However, don't get carried away. You don't need a recommendation from all of your connections on LinkedIn. 

What are some tips that you learned from creating your LinkedIn?

The Beginner's Guide to LinkedIn

6 Things You Need to Know About LinkedIn Recommendations

6 Things on Your LinkedIn Profile That Shouldn't be on Your Resume

By Jaclyn Harris
Associate Manager

Monday, April 30, 2012

PR Practitioners Need Broader Skill Set

On April 20, the Center for Global Public Relations held its second annual global public relations research conference. Former CGPR Intern Patricia Mills shares her takeaways from the conference for public relations practitioners and job seekers.
Today I want to explore a few ideas about the future in communication and necessity of broader ideas among my colleagues and future practitioners. In meeting with internationally respected industry leaders at the global research conference I kept hearing recurring themes in needed skills.
1) How do we get our profession more globally savvy?
Today’s global political climate and disappearing business borders require a professional communicator with global savvy and cultural sensitivity to new market entry. Programs designed in one culture can fail miserably in another. Professionals  from the host country are  the most knowledgeable about how a given program could be tweaked to be most effective. Offering them a seat at the implementation table is not a luxury - it is a must!

2) A need exists to integrate relationship building into social media campaigns. 
With the birth of social media use, practitioners have a valuable opportunity to directly reach our clients or constituents. Yet, the majority of entities are talking at and not with the consumer. Today our clients are challenged by competing products and services all around and the new professional consumer needs to feel heard and have issues addressed not just community service or sale information megaphoned to them.

3) PR professionals need to broaden the basis of thinking and education in new areas.
We as communicators can no longer just lean on the press release to standard media outlets to get our program message to the consumers. Knowledge of governmental constraints, cultural norms, and economic/ business environments are needed to create program initiatives with tactics that will reach out rather than repel. A much broader curriculum must be included in any new communication professional education. Analysis of all environmental and cultural factors internationally and even within country segmented areas is necessary to achieve strategic goals of any program.

As I sat with my distinguished colleagues at the conference, the themes of common needs kept being reappearing. We as a profession are expected to keep broadening our skills and spanning our boundaries with the growth of the industry. Don’t let yourself fall behind the curve. To keep global corporate business as healthy as it needs to be and giving clients quality campaign results these new ideas seem to be extremely high in importance for PR and the industries and customers or professional consumers they serve.

Full text of the blog available here