Two capital cities played host to two major PR and communications events in June – both of which have far reaching implications for the industry.
Sweden was the venue for The World Public Relations Forum where the Stockholm Accords were unveiled. Their stated aim is “to articulate and establish the role of public relations within a fast-evolving digital and value-network society.”
The unspoken premise behind both of these two initiatives is that the PR and communications sector has to make a bigger effort in demonstrating its value to business and society at large and to lay claim to a greater involvement in organisational success.
At the heart of the Accords is the notion of a “communicative organisation”. It suggests that organisations that put more effort into communicating with stakeholders and acting rapidly to feedback are those most likely to succeed. More ambitiously, the Accords suggest that PR should be involved not only in its traditional communication role – to both internal and external audiences – but should play a part in other issues such as sustainability, management and governance.
The role of technology
Perhaps understandably, the Stockholm Accords make little reference to how the industry is to achieve this specifically. But there can be no doubt that technology must have a role to play in surmounting some of the big challenges ahead.
For example, in terms of communicating with a key external stakeholder group – the media – online media centres have come a long way since they first made their appearance over 15 years ago. Whereas early forms of online media centre acted as little more than glorified press release archives, the modern day media centre allows communications departments to rapidly provide highly targeted content to relevant media contacts while at the same reducing the overhead traditionally required to maintain brand and message consistency.
Another key component of the Accords is the desire to support a “listening culture”. The biggest challenge to adopting this approach in recent years has been the rise of social media in the shape of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn (that said, not every senior corporate communications director is convinced about this – Rolls-Royce’s Peter Morgan being the most recent high profile dissenter).
However, there are areas where technology has not yet delivered in terms of aiding the PR industry’s mission to demonstrate more value. Automated sentiment analysis perhaps being the most obvious example of where the promise and the reality have failed to match.
Measuring outcomes, not outputs
Ultimately, what links online media centres, automated sentiment analysis, social media and research is the overriding need to measure and evaluate PR investment. And to do so far more rigorously than in the past. The Stockholm Accords and the Barcelona Principles are both in agreement on this point. The Barcelona Principles are all about abandoning the use of AVE’s as a way of measuring the value of PR and instead, focussing on outcomes rather than outputs. As the Accords state: “Evaluation implies the prevalent use of qualitative tools while measurement implies a prevalent use of quantitative tools. The new frontier, as is happening for other management functions, relies in “quantilitative” tools which integrate both evaluation and measurement.”
Aside from the rather ugly coinage of “quantilitative”, this raises the biggest question. How is the PR profession to demonstrate its value to the organisation’s multiple stakeholders now and in the future? There is no shortage of technology and tools available to address specific parts of the problem. However, those that focus on integrating technology to address all aspects of internal and external communication must surely have a head start in creating the organisational success the industry so craves.