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‘All PR is Online’ A White Paper from Keene Communications

July 2013


All PR is Online

FOREWORD

‘Big data’, ‘the semantic web’ and the ‘internet of things’ are not phrases usually associated with public relations. But now they are. Big data in public relations means we can access every article published by most media going back decades or explore what is being said by every politician in both Houses for as long as Hansard has been published. The semantic web allows us to look at the intent of a web page without reading a word. It allows us to identify mood, enthusiasm and excitement across whole organisations and even replicate human logic. The internet of things means we can view a 48 sheet poster on a telephone or check out the contents of the fridge at the Wig and Penn Club. These concepts have profound implications for the PR industry, which stands on the threshold of an exciting new era. The industry now has the right people with the right skills needed to firmly grasp the opportunity to understand our stakeholders better to create more meaningful relationships. We must not let it slip through our fingers and be seized upon by our colleagues working in other parts of the marketing services spectrum. I am indebted to my friend, Professor David Phillips, who, together with his colleague Philip Young, has provided Keene Communications with this White Paper as an edited abstract from their forthcoming book. The book, ‘Online Public Relations’ is due to be published later this year by Kogan Page. This will be its third edition, proof that the book is hugely popular. David and Philip’s third edition of Online Public Relations, will be a ‘must read’ for those working in the PR industry who want to grasp the opportunity that is on offer.

Simon Quarendon Managing Director Keene Communications July 2013

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All PR is Online

All PR is Online

Introduction This White Paper is an abstract prepared by Professor David Phillips FCIPR and edited by Michael White from the forthcoming third edition of Online Public Relations, written by the leading academic team in this field, David Phillips and Philip Young, to be published later this year by Kogan Page. Once, books about public relations dealt in known processes. Today, we know that the process of building relationships with organisational constituents is anything but a known process. There is a significant revolution taking place. The internet has escaped from the PC As digital media escapes the tied down desktop to mobile wifi-enabled devices, these new platforms become a media in their own right. Mobile phones and tablets have created The ‘Internet of Things’, a commodity so useful it is almost invisible. The mobile phone can give driving directions and monitor health, the mobile credit card reader can pay for hot dogs at Glastonbury, and mass transit tracking of trains and buses is available on every type of screen imaginable. These are everyday examples of change gaining pace all too quickly for many communications practitioners. The collection of masses of data and the ability to monitor and evaluate it can now provide robust intelligence of the spread of a flu epidemic, create a map showing which streets are busy, or where power outages have happened. During the 2012 Hurricane Sandy in New York, it was possible to remotely locate emergency food stations and first aid services through mobile devices. The advent of an online world means almost every aspect of the discipline of PR needs to be rethought. Crucially, it is not just a case of devising, adopting and developing new tools and tactics, or restructuring to meet the ever-shrinking timescales for increasingly international campaigns. Far beyond this, what we might call ‘the New PR’ demands a dramatically different approach at the level of strategy. In order to understand this, we firstly need to understand what the internet is, partly as a technological tool, but more importantly as the enabling mechanism for a communications revolution which is driving significant changes in the dynamics of society. The Purpose of PR? Reputation Management Almost all definitions of public relations agree that it is a discipline concerned with an exchange of information. In practice, this usually involves the management of an organisation trying to convey information to external and internal stakeholders, and, to varying degrees, trying also to receive information from a range of people.

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All PR is Online

Sometimes this is simple factual data, perhaps a council informing local residents about the day of dustbin collection, but more often it is about persuasion. This is where public relations seeks to change perception or behaviours. Such communications seek to enhance or consolidate reputation, which can be seen as the basis of trust. Indeed, some regard ‘reputation management’ as a useful explanation of the purpose of PR. We would argue that a more sophisticated definition of public relations goes beyond reputation to be concerned with the broader and more challenging realm of relationship optimisation, in which reputation clearly plays a part but which demands an understanding of a much more complex set of factors. The point is that at each level the core processes demand the exchange of information, and its outcomes are predicated on responses and reactions to this information. The challenge for the PR practitioner is to understand how this information is exchanged and then work out how to influence such exchanges in a way that benefits the client. Mass communications vs. micro communications In the roughest and crudest terms, let’s examine how information is exchanged in modern Western societies. To get us underway, let’s pretend it is 1984, when Grunig and Hunt wrote Managing Public Relations. In 1984, as for the previous hundred years, it was possible to split information into two areas, that of mass communications and micro communications. There is a significant grey area in between the two, but for present purposes these categories are distinguished by a qualitative difference between that which is made available to large numbers of people and involves a decidedly asymmetrical relationship between provider and audience, and that which is fundamentally an exchange between individuals with the possibility of symmetry. Mass communications involves newspapers, magazines, television and radio. For our purposes it can include books and directories, and can extend down to organisational newsletters and business-to-business publications. All such communications require capital and labour investment to produce what are, by and large, static texts. Clearly the content of such exchanges is influenced by audience expectation and reaction, but it can be a slow and inefficient process. Micro communications are infinitely more flexible, in terms of timescale, reach and influence. The most obvious example is a conversation, perhaps between you and a friend: “Where shall we go tonight?” “I have heard there’s a new Italian restaurant on the High Street.” Perhaps you go on to discuss a number of restaurants, including information gleaned from newspapers and magazines, or friends and colleagues – word of mouth, and peer recommendation. Such exchanges can be replicated by groups, and extended over time, and in 1984, by the (expensive landline) telephone and by slow, time consuming letter. Telephone conversations usually involve two people, are ephemeral, and their contacts are overwhelmingly not recorded and not accessible to other people. Letters can be duplicated and sent to a whole host of people, but each mailing is discrete; only the sender is likely to have an overview of responses. It is quite difficult even to think of circumstances in which the contents of these letters or telephone calls could have been made more widely available except by the laborious process of transposition to a mass medium. Today, we have entered the world of search engines and the writable web. The difference is not in tools of communication, but in their connectivity. One of the essential factors that formed the mass communication model was simple economics – it was very expensive to [Ty

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All PR is Online

launch a newspaper or TV station, and the capital investment necessarily precluded the vast majority of individuals from that entering the market. A new era of communications All of that has changed. Today anyone with access to a computer, an internet connection and basic literacy can make their voice heard to a global audience. Here is where traditional corporate culture and the internet clash. Once managers were gatekeepers of information; they had a role and facility for control. Just as blogs and other social media allow organisations an effective environment in which to create dialogues and communicate directly with publics and stakeholders, so they allow users, clients, opponents and competitors to communicate freely with each other, with the potential to create a discourse that is largely outside the control of the subject. More importantly, it is becoming easier to track and search this information. Conversations are becoming increasingly digital, and focused around a myriad of interlinked nodes of communication that are catalogued by search engines and connected people. In addition, anyone can create a website, they can have it hosted for free, they can add discussion lists and chat facilities, and they can include campaigning banners, all at the click of a mouse. Because of these developments, the PR industry has to change. On the one hand government, the economy and society have changed and will force PR to follow, and on the other, the very practices of PR have already been changed. Some, like press relations, are threatened with being devalued as press reach shrinks. As digital interaction commands more attention of individuals and organisations, it needs practitioners to both show the way and implement the tactic. Much of the historic practice is changing, and will diminish or vanish. In the UK, the pace of digital development is blistering. We can take a snapshot and know it will evolve before you read it. People have taken to the internet as almost no other technology in history. Now mobiles take pictures, provide editing capability and wirelessly transmit presentations and video to projectors. People have communication powers that only an agency of an inhouse publicity team could consider five years ago. Among the ranks of common man are many with such capabilities and yet among common corporations, there are few who can respond in kind. This power shift is now commonplace. All aspects of PR are affected For a very long time, corporate affairs practitioners were pretty sure that this 'internet thing' would not affect their realm of cosy one on one relationships. As it turns out there is a lot going on that affects corporate affairs. Of course we start with the watchers of corporate activities. Almost anyone can take a view of almost any company based on its online presence. It is the nature of internet transparency and porosity which makes almost all corporate activity accessible to the networked digital community. In addition, such accessibility is served by third party organisations from Corporate Watch to Safe Call. There are videos and stories a plenty. [Ty

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All PR is Online

There are technologies that examine content and can infer what has been excluded. They can second guess what has been redacted. We can show this using a simple example. Imagine that tomorrow the CEO and CFO of a company have no appointments and next week is the Annual Report day. Therefore one could say there is a high probability that they are finalising Annual Report statements. This kind of inference is pretty easy for the savvy Corporate Affairs Manager. This means tomorrow a competitor could announce the appointment of a senior manager poached from the company. With pattern matching such inferences can be very insightful and communication can be planned for optimum effect. Developing search technologies make organisations more vulnerable because it is easy to look for content relating to obscure subjects in semantic relationship with an organisation. Much of this affects corporate brand. It seems that every area of PR activity is now mediated by the internet. Web based event management software, press clipping reporting and scanning online is available. From every perspective public relations has to embrace the internet. It is not just social media, but everything that the internet has to offer. Why wait for the future? The traditional role of PR has already changed with crowd sourcing arming amateurs with global audiences and activists and communication tools to exercise great power. Constantly evolving media capabilities offer great power to the initiated. Every @tweet on Twitter adds to the richness of data held online about colleagues and companies. Semantic algorithms change the ranking of our organisations; the relevance of media stories; the value of PR work and reputation of practitioners. The digital evolution is no longer about how soon it will happen now that it has, almost without comment, happened. Most people in the FT Top 1000 companies could not find time to read everything that goes online about them each day. Is it to be ignored or applied in this Big Data era? Today PR practitioners need to have robust intelligence of the global, often invisible, networks which connect us each day to the public. As for tomorrow, much of the discipline of PR will need to be rethought. The most important question is this: how are you going to prosper in a world where all PR is online?

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All PR is Online

About Keene Communications Keene Communications is a boutique communications agency based in London that designs and delivers bespoke campaigns that achieve measurable returns on our clients' investment. From the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, to Scandinavian Airlines, to a family office in Singapore – our client base is truly global. Our senior team provides strategic advice for great companies, destinations and government; that's why our clients stay with us for an average of 6.5 years compared with an industry average of just 2. This is one in a series of White Papers published by Keene Communications. To be alerted to future ones, follow us on Twitter.

Contact us www.keenecomms.com e: hello@keenecomms.com t: 0207 839 2140 https://twitter.com/keenecomms https://www.facebook.com/keenecomms http://www.youtube.com/user/KeeneComms

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'All PR is Online'