I spent last Thursday at the Plank PR Summit (#plankprsummit) hosted by the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations (www.plankcenter.ua.edu).
The Summit focused on the release of a global study on leadership and leadership characteristics in public relations. I was surprised to see the study’s respondents name ‘change management’ as the top skill needed by future public relations practitioners. In studies of this nature, I expect to see items like digital engagement, analytics, big data use/management, corporate social responsibility, trust management or any number of other skills or competencies land on top of the list.
While digesting this finding, I also began to think about my breakfast 10 days ago with AdAge editor-at-large Matt Creamer. Matt and I discussed the biggest issues facing Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs). Matt suggested that the most common issue being grappled with by CMOs is balancing the tension between technology, creative and media.
Considering the findings of the Plank Center study and Matt’s observation about CMOs, it seems to me that the more relevant emerging need for public relations practitioners is ‘managing change’ not ‘change management’. Specifically, I would suggest that ‘managing change enabled by technology‘ is a skill set with which all public relations practitioners need be equipped.
I see technology having 5 outcomes that impact practitioners:
- Democratization of information: The notion of companies, governments, NGOs, interest groups and other institutions creating information and then distributing it across a number of controlled channels is ancient history. Anyone with a mobile phone, a PC or a wireless device can create, distribute and socialize content on issues of interest to micro and mass audiences. For public relations professionals this means there is a much greater need to anticipate issues and to have content in place ahead of issues breaking.
- Disintermediation of mainstream media: Organization websites, mobile platforms, push technologies and social technologies have greatly reduced the need for governments, companies, brands, NGOs, etc, to rely on mainstream media to interpret and then distribute their content with a loss of editorial control. Certainly, there is credibility added by distribution through a third-party media brand; however, the ability of organizations to communicate with their constituencies in non-paid social or owned platforms changes the nature of how public relations professionals view their direct access to key constituents.
- Relationship disruption: Similar to the notion of disintermediation of mainstream media, social technologies are also disintermediating many parts of the value chain. Uber (www.uber.com), the executive car service that allows drivers and riders to rate each other and eliminates cash payments and dispatchers from the transaction, is my current favorite example of how technology is disrupting traditional business-customer relationships. Public relations professionals in this instance have both a marketing communications role and a consumer/customer insight role.
- Continuous and multi-directional dialogue: Practitioners used to be able to think in terms of target audience, key message, delivery of message and reaction to that message. As leading media brands are global, news cycles 24-hour and social media is ubiquitous, audiences have become interlocking communities of stakeholders. This means organizations must now participate in continuous, multi-stakeholder and multi-directional dialogues. The conversation is always ‘on’. Practitioners need to comfortable in using technologies to both monitor conversations and to participate in them.
- Radical transparency: WikiLeaks, capital market regulations and stakeholder access to once tightly-held information has organizations today living in a world of radical transparency. IBM’s Jon Iwata believes that business, in particular, should embrace transparency as a potential competitive advantage. My firm believes the same. That said, there is a paradox to transparency. Once organizations start the journey to transparency, demands by stakeholders for greater transparency emerge. As transparency advocate Don Tapscott says, transparency is like being naked on the beach. If you’re going to be naked, you want to make sure you are buff. Practitioners, in this analogy, are the personal trainers for their organizations.
Alan VanderMolen is the vice chairman, DJE Holdings, president and chief executive officer, global practices
Image by Sonny Abesamis