Thursday, October 08, 2015

A Definition of Public Relations

As industries are automated some or some parts of the activity are subsumed into a more robust realm of activity.

For this reason, it is very important that we know what we are talking about when we examine PR Automation.

Perhaps it is now time to be very sure about what PR is and can achieve.

There is a number of definitions flying about:

Public Relations is about reputation - the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you. Public Relations is the discipline that looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.

Says the Chartered Institute of Public Relations.

Lots of people try to define PR. In the digital environment, it is important to be precise and not to drift into other realms of management or to confine the practice to a future of obscurity.

The nature of PR being used in this blog recognises that:

Public Relations requires:

Knowledge and understanding of cultures, (namely “the way of life, especially the general customs and beliefs, of a particular group of people at a particular time”) in society;
Knowledge and capability to identify those values that contribute to and define cultures and groups.

The ethically sound ability to align values in a process of refining cultures to the benefit of cultural groups and the client.

Perhaps we need some evidence to give credibility to this for of thinking.

Her I offer some examples including analysis of employees in a company as evidenced in LinkedIn.

(Picture: The skills (values) of Nationwide employees as expressed by them in LinkedIn)

This approach is consistent for consumer PR, Industry and sector PR, Corporate Affairs and HR development and all other forms of PR.

Our ability to identify, for example: cultural icons in Twitter exchanges; semantic themes in social media discourse, locations of participants, and much more through the use and application of online actions (including social media, location mapping, etc) means we can examine such evidence as values that attach to an individual or group. 

It is then possible to look for common values as between a cultural group, many cultural groups and an organisation (lets call it a client) and identify where there is a mismatch and seek to change the values of the organisation and or the cultural group.

(Picture: Where my Twitter followers live - to the nearest city - showing location values) 

The is a much that has evolved for Public Relations. 

The developing technologies offers much more accurate, much more grounded, much more effective and much better value for money PR.

(Picture: Semantically derived values expressed through Twitter about The Bank of England. Snapshot taken in early 2014)

The idea that values defined cultures is a way forward for Public Relations and  is quite a broad remit, but it also has boundaries.

Being bounded by the effects of culture is useful and prevents us being drawn into the debate about advertising or marketing in that if the activity is not to affect culture, it has no place in PR. Thus, hits on a website are not necessarily an indication of cultural change but events, actions or reactions driven by such hits are cultural effects and thereby are a PR issue.

Online PR is is much more definitive than the Grunig and Hunt (1984), proposition 30 years ago but has some common elements:

“The management of communication between an organisation and its publics.”

Or the description provided by search engines:

"The professional maintenance of a favourable public image by a company or other organization or a famous person (is this ethical?)

"public relations is often looked down on by the media." (from what great height, one might ask).

"The state of the relationship between a company or other organisation or a famous person and the public."

There is a need to be more precise because the range of influences on any individual through communication and other drivers is extensive (no WiFi is an example where equanimity in message reception might be missing).

The range of media and mechanisms and means to influence cultures available to public relations practitioners is extensive, growing and powerful. 

Automation is one such development and adds to the power of the profession and its practices.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

The Press Officer's New Hats

When the President of the CIPR wore a cap to school, there were people employed in big organisations called Press Officers. 

It seemed to me that this is a great time to review the many tasks that now (or will soon) drop on his or her desk.

The Press Officer now needs many hats, it would seem.

It's budget time. She is looking ahead. A future in which she will identify the nature of the sector (culture) and in which her client operates. 


It has also changed!

The professional in this arena now has to:

  • Identify the sector (culture)
  • Identify the key descriptors (concepts/values) common to, and unique to the sector (culture)
  • Identity changes and the rate of change
  • Identify the media of most significance to the culture e.g. Newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, digitally enabled channels (from Netflix to Twitter), Internet of Things, Stories and intelligence drawn from Big Data.
  • Develop capability to affect cultures.
  • Deliver
  • Evaluate/extract intelligence

Combined, More news is read - boosted by online

The extent to which people have withdrawn from reading print media is now well versed. The trend is continuing. The Newspaper Readership Survey shows the total newspaper and magazine readership on and off-line covers most of the population of the UK.

In 2015, Digital delivered (year on year):

  • +12.3%  incremental increase in printing readership across newsbrands & magazine brands,
  •  +27.3% incremental increase to print readership across newsbrands and 
  • +18.5% incremental increase to print readership across magazine brands.

By mid-2015, The Guardian, Daily Telegraph and The Independent had a larger online readership than print according to the National Readership Survey.
Overall, the readership figures tell a story of traditional print titles not only losing circulation but also losing their relevance online and offline as, for example, women turn to alternative authorities – new blogs, online and tablet brands – for their fashion and lifestyle advice.

Time Online

Ofcom’s Media Use and Attitudes 2015 report, now in its tenth year, shows that internet users aged 16 and above claimed to spend nearly 10 hours (9 hours and 54 minutes) online each week in 2005. By 2014 it had climbed to over 20 hours and 30 minutes.

The biggest increase in internet use is cited among 16-24-year-olds, almost tripling from 10 hours and 24 minutes each week in 2005 to 27 hours and 36 minutes by the end of 2014.

Media Changes

For traditional PR people, this is an issue. For half a century, PR turned used communication to negotiate with groups of people. It remains a  robust if narrow, form of communication and PR as we move towards seeking influence over cultures.

  • The revenues of news channels are disappearing.
  • In the USA, Advertising Age said that measured-media spending fell by 1.8% over the year to June 2015.
  • In July 2015 both the Pew Research Center and the Knight Foundation found that Facebook and Twitter users across all demographics were increasingly using the social networks as news sources. They are however seeking out different types of news content on each platform.
  • There are commercial drivers too. Jon Moeller, chief financial officer at Procter & Gamble, said at an investor conference in 2015: "In general, digital media delivers a higher return on investment than TV or print."
  • In 2015, the UK became the first country in the world where half of all advertising spend went on digital media.
  • Just over £16.2bn will be spent on all forms of advertising in the UK. Digital advertising is expected to grow by 12% in 2015 to £8.1bn to overtake TV and become the largest medium for advertising in 2016.
  • Meanwhile, A fifth (19%) of consumer-facing brands and a quarter (27%) of ad agencies worldwide say mobile advertising is a top priority for their business, yet concerns linger over measurement and privacy. xAd polled 574 ad agency across 11 countries in North America, Western Europe, Asia-Pacific and Latin America.
  • Mobile is a manifestation of the Internet of Things. Our press officer will, of course, now want to master communication using the IoT. 
  • The reason advertising revenue has moved from traditional media to digital media is because it is effective. As for advertising, so too for all other forms of cultural influence.

The net effect, says Moeller, ‘has been to decrease the demand for low-skilled information workers while increasing the demand for highly skilled ones.’ 

Creatives Bow to Technologies

As we shall discover, much of what the PR industry thought was creative and skilled has already been usurped by technologies and only awaits mass implementation.

This trend in the labour markets has been documented in dozens of studies by economists: Author, Lawrence Katz, Alan Krueger, Frank Levy, Richard Murnane, and Daron Acemo─člu, Tim Bresnahan, Lorin Hitt, and others have documented it. 

Economists call it skill-biased technical change. By definition, it favours people with more education, training, or experience.

This puts pressure on PR now, and it is evident there is a need to look to the future in some detail.

An example of the significance of the above trends would suggest that half of all the Press Relations practitioners in 2005 should now be fully trained and equipped digital media experts.

Another group of practitioners might be more active with mobile capabilities because eApp stores and tablets helped drive 157% year-on-year growth in 2011, according to an IAB/PricewaterhouseCoopers report.

Twits for Journos

Meanwhile, the nature of traditional channels is changing fast as well. There is a much wider range of communication platform.

A survey in the UK by Cision in 2014 showed 54% of journalists who responded couldn't carry out their work without social media (up from 43% in 2013 and 28% in 2012). Fifty-eight percent also say social media has improved their productivity (up from 54% in 2013 and 39% in 2012).

If the survey is representative, this means a majority of UK journalists are open to a form of communication that is very different to the traditional press release. It is a change that took less than a decade to emerge.

But these developments are but drops in the ocean. There are examples, case studies, if you like, That show how powerful the internet and notably social media, and the application of technologies can be.

So far we have seen publications, broadcasters, journalists and some PR practitioners, together with advertising agencies gently move into the digital arena. 

Meanwhile, the general population is tearing into this new digital environment.

Political leaders, like Jeremy Corbyn, can point to successful election campaigns driven by Twitter and Facebook.

Picture: Jeremy Corbyn as James Bond. Photograph: @sexyjezzacorbyn.

The dynamism of the Corbyn social media presence is described by Stuart Heritage in the Guardian In which he describes the elements that add up to internet gold. 

'All of a sudden, you can’t move for Corbyn parodies and memes. Want to see a Photoshopped picture of Corbyn as Obi-Wan Kenobi promising a new hope? Check the internet. Want to scroll through endless pictures of his face pasted onto the bodies of rippling vest models? Check the internet. Want to read a weird stream of mothers declaring their berserk lust for Corbyn, based on the fact that he reminds them of a “salty sea dog”? Check the internet, and then go and scrub your face, hands and brain with Swarfega.'
At one point, the hashtag #JezWeCan was being used once every 25 seconds on Twitter. Over on Facebook, a tentative Jeremy Corbyn victory party was being planned for the evening of 12 September in Trafalgar Square, London.

Many, many personalities, not to mention brands would like to replicate such a movement.

There are other indicators of behavioural change showing a need for attention to the significance of online, including mobile, effects on people.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC), and data consultants Springboard, reported high street footfall was down -2.8% in June 2015 compared with the same period in 2014. Shopping centres also suffered, seeing a decline of -2.4% year-on-year.
Out-of-town retail parks fared reasonably well, Retail Bulletin reported. 

They are attracting more "click and collect" shoppers and reported a +2.8% rise in footfall, the 18th successive month in which the sector's footfall has increased. Meanwhile click and deliver services are booming.

There are behavioral changes to take into account too.

New cultures are emerging. 

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Big Leaps and Small Incremental Steps - the rate of PR Automation

Progressively more technologies will emerge to automate individual PR functions. 

In turn, these will be integrated into other services that amalgamate a number of such services. 

Today this includes the automation and distribution of press notices and website content.

The engines to automate services such as Search Engine Optimisation activities (SEO); creation of Apps; application of wearables and use of Big Data are now in the wings of ordinary daily PR activity (I will cover these in a few days time). 

In the meantime cross posting of content to many web and social media outlets is common: book publishing is automated. Multi-platforms are updated as common content is published to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn without even a click of a mouse.  

Progressively we need to look at the effects of such developments and how they can be tamed to aid best PR practice.

This progress does mean that practitioners have to be kept informed (e.g. it is essential to keep up with a range of developments for SEO one follows, for marketing etc) and monitor expertise online.

That PR technologies will appear is not in question, what is problematic is the extent to which it automates the PR (and relevant associated activities) and the rate of development.

There will be some big leaps and some small incremental steps.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Automation is creeping up on PR

When we begin to look more closely, we find that there are other instances of automation. For example anyone can use a wiki to learn how to organise an event, and there is software online to help automate the process (e.g. Evenbright and Planningpod etc.) and this means that there are services available that are already beginning to offer automated functionality. Anyone can run events and automate much of the process. 
There are commercial drivers too. Our market is growing fast: Jon Moeller, chief financial officer at Procter & Gamble, said at an investor conference in 2015: "In general, digital media delivers a higher return on investment than TV or print." 

A lot of this change has, just as with the industrial revolution, affected jobs. Many are no longer needed, but new ones are being created. 
The nature of identifying PR process and using the information to increase productivity is now common. 
An example of ordinary and elementary PR might be an activity — let's say a new post on your blog. The first step in automation will be that the instant it is posted online it triggers an action, such as sharing that post on Twitter and Facebook. It's a simple automated process  More information is available here (but there is lots all around the Internet). 
Profiling, analysing and finding appropriate drivers of client constituencies with progressively enhanced monitoring and evaluation is already being automated, of which more later.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Why are PR jobs so special

Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft, recently predicted that within 20 years most jobs will be automated. PR commentator Tom Foremski explored the idea and came up with some controversial thoughts for PR.

“Public relations has been pulled into the modern world (complaining about the extra work of social) but not much has changed. It’s still very much a hand-crafted, artisanal business, its use of technology is a Twitter hashtag and a dashboard of likes and shares.

"But without a significant tech component PR is at a big disadvantage because it can’t scale, it can't grow without growing more people. This lack of technical components is also why valuations of PR firms are low compared to their revenues.

"And it makes PR firms vulnerable to competitors outside their field that can figure out and automate technologies of promotion.”

Why are PR jobs so special that some of the work won't be automated?

Well, there is nothing stopping us, we can automate. That is what this book is about. But the warning that if PR does not do it, someone else will is not a hollow statement in Tom’s article. Since he wrote it, AP Dow has started to write articles automatically - up to 3000 each quarter!

"Much of the promise of artificial intelligence is yet to be realised, but in some areas it's already proving its worth. Meet the robot journalists that one day might steal my job,"  Stephen Beckett, BBC Click TV.

"Tencent publishes word-perfect business article on inflation, complete with analysts' comments, crafted in a minute by a computer programme," He Huifeng. South China Morning Post.