Thursday, 23 May 2013

Reputation and PR

I've been following the various debates on blogs (PR Moment, Wadds, etc) and in PR Week (May 17) about the reputation of public relations. 

Much of the discussion has been about the virtues of PR and how these can be expressed, rather than showing understanding of "reputation". For at least 20 years, some PR operations have portrayed themselves as "reputation managers" which has also demonstrated little understanding of reputation.

There is a lot of research and literature on this topic. Much of it is worth reading and comes from outside PR and organisational/corporate communications, as many sectors and disciplines consider that reputation relates to them or their responsibilities.

For example, a 2007 article in the Harvard Business Review specifically argued that one person in each organisation should be in charge of reputation and it should not be "people holding top 'spin' jobs such as heads of marketing and corporate communications" (Eccles, Newquist & Schatz, 2007, p.114). These authors also excluded corporate lawyers but proposed COO, CFO, heads of risk management, strategic planning and internal audit as suitable because "they have the credibility and resources necessary to do the job" (p.114). Marketers and communicators were unsuitable because they hold responsibilities which have potential conflicts of interest.

Moving on to reputation itself, US management academic Paul Argenti and Bob Druckenmiller (of Porter Novelli) defined it as: “the collective representation of multiple constituencies’ images of a company built up over time and based on a company’s identity programs, its performance and how constituencies have perceived its behaviour” (2004, p.369). 

With a bit of decoding, they are making the case that reputation is given by stakeholders ("constituencies") to an organisation, sector or profession by stakeholders because of its behaviour over time. It's not created by a promotional campaign, such as "a traditional PR campaign" or "doing better PR for PR", as proposed in the PR Week commentaries.

After reviewing all the recent comments, I'd support Lord Bell's assertion in PR Week that "the reputation of the PR industry should be based on what it does well or badly" and his focus on "the strategic importance of the business" (PR Week, May 17, p.25)

PR will build its own reputation over time through excellent strategic work undertaken by well educated, creative practitioners, operating in an ethical environment, who create value for their clients or employers. If PR continues to play in the publicity field with loose ethics, then it will get the reputation it deserves.

Argenti, P.A. and Druckenmiller, B., 2004. Reputation and the corporate brand. Corporate Reputation Review, 7(4), 368-374.
Eccles, R.G., Newquist, S.C. & Schatz, R. (2007). A framework for measuring reputational risk. Harvard Business Review, February 2007, 104-114.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

PR associations - an uncertain future

On April 21, I posted a blog titled Are PR associations past their “sell-by” date? It was a rhetorical question and brought a lot of traffic to this blog along with some comments. It also inspired CIPR presidential candidate Jon White to start a LinkedIn discussion about the questions posed.

(BTW, I am not campaigning for either CIPR presidential candidate. I know both Jon White and Stephen Waddington and wish them well. It’s a benefit that in 2013 there is a civilised debate taking place).
Despite groans from one contributor that a “Professor of Public Relations” might actually be involved in discussion and debate, I have analysed the posts from more than 20 practitioners on this site, the LinkedIn debate and some other blogs (e.g. Stephen Waddington’s “Wadds” and Heather Yaxley’s “Green Bananas”).
These are the headlines:
1)      There’s no concept of what ‘professional PR’ or professionalism is in UK public relations practice. It’s a vague sort of aspiration that has no dimensions;

2)     About half the respondents consider CIPR should enforce a CPD policy as a requirement of continuing membership.  It should make entry more (rather than less) demanding.

3)     Some consider that CPD is too loosely applied at present; others think enforcing it would be a step too far and “would pull up the ladder” on good members who are less committed or able to spend time on training and continuing development.

4)     About half believe that there should be a PR body of some sort, preferably only one. It should be less costly, less London-centric, offer cheaper training and more benefits. It should be more engaged with stakeholders, but less with internal issues. Others were much less supportive and considered CIPR to be past its expiry date like many club-type organisations. “I think the CIPR should hear the clock ticking”, wrote one contributor.

5)     The majority consider that CIPR does not campaign for PR practitioners and their businesses. (PRCA, however, should be congratulated on its battle with NLA which has been successful in the Supreme Court).

6)     CIPR's stance on ethics is soft and relativist. Johanna Fawkes’ comment that “weak engagement with ethics undermines a lot of claims (that PR has) a social benefit, and that most Codes, including CIPR’s, are general statements of intent rather than moral guidelines” captured this.

Overall, there was an undefined feeling that a CIPR-type body should exist but there were no convincing arguments about its purpose or objectives.
Finally, a personal observation of mine on a comment that CIPR be “a provider of hard evidence of PR’s value”. Surely, that is the practitioner’s role to develop campaigns that create value that is recognised by clients and employers. Even if CIPR bestrode the whole communication landscape, it could not deliver what practitioners should be doing through application of research, planning, best practice and applied theory.
For at least two decades UK practitioners have had readily accessible information on research, planning and evaluation but have mainly chosen to ignore it for quick fixes like AVEs and other junk data.