Toni Muzi Falconi: From Personal to Organizational Influence

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I think that PR has always been about relationships, but it has changed fundamentally in that relationships have almost become the primary responsibility of a PR practitioner-and it’s not just with the Wall Street Journal or New York Times-it’s relationships with everyone who has a significant influence on the reputation of your company. I think it’s great for the function, for the profession, and it’s much more exciting for me to think about managing relationships and issues rather than practicing stereotypical PR, which is…get something from the marketing team that they want to sell, then put a press release together and call a few reporters. It’s a very good development.” Gary Sheffer, general manager, public affairs and employee communications, General Electric

Nine months ago (in January) I posted on another blog a first ‘provokation’ elaborating – in three consecutive and fairly detailed installments integrated with great comments by visitors on the same post – on the potential breakthrough for our profession, if only we could learn to transit public relations practice from a personal influence to an organizational influence model, thus transforming one of our most highly perceived added-values, namely personal relationships, into organizational relationships.

My initial arguments, at the time, were that this transition could be approached by adopting, adapting and applying, within any organization, advanced knowledge management systems; and that such process would hugely benefit organizations, both by improving their stakeholder relationship management efforts, and even more by increasing the organization’s immaterial capital: thus significantly accelerating the institutionalization of our profession.

I am now proud to introduce you to a solid research paper written for her graduation capstone by Kristin Johnson, an excellent, (now former) student at New York University’s Masters Course in Public Relations and Corporate Communication (where I teach Global Relations and Intercultural Communication).

In this paper Kristin develops the seed of the idea, and smartly elaborates not only in its conceptualization but, most importantly, in an on-site ‘reality check’ by means of direct, interpersonal and extensive interviews with a selected number of professional leaders; which in turn allowed her to structure an online questionnaire submitted to, and compiled by, another significant number of authoritative senior professionals from major international organizations and institutions around the world.

This effort was stimulated and assisted by the Institute for Public Relations and its Commission on Global PR Research, and is now being posted on the Institute’s website for your perusal, in the high hope that you will want to add, criticise, comment and suggest.

In order to allow me to put all these materials (my original first drafts, additional research by Antonio Lorenzon, Kristin Johnson’s capstone, your comments…) together in a proper research paper format in the next few weeks, and to submit the final results to the Institute for approval and publication.

I am very grateful for your attention and sincerely hope you will also wish to contribute to the effort.

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8 Comments

  1. Toni, I wasn’t so categorical as your response seems to imply. I just opined that we may be asking the wrong questions just because it would be nice to transform individual relationships into organizational relationships.

    At the bottom of page 6 in Ms Johnson’s paper, there is this paraphrasing of your views on the matter: “If an organization could succeed in transforming individual relationships into organizational relationships, there would be one more indicator that would greatly enhance the value of the organization, and contribute to the overall value public relations has for the organization.”

    That’s a big “if” that should have been rigorously tested at the “hypothesis-testing” stage when the research questions were being considered.

    Always a pleasure to interact with you in this forum.

  2. Dear Don,

    one more excellent reason to dig into the practical feasability of the hypothesis!

    I wonder if anyone has experienced analogous km methods in the more general area of organizational communication (internal or external…this becomes an issue only at a second stage) in an attempt to transit from tacit to explicit knowledge.

    There are many ‘metropolitan legends’ implying that some of the more sophisticated huge management and/or pr consultants have these in place but we have yet not been able to intercept such practices.

    The cases are two: these are in fact only metropolitan legends or, once again, the companies are hyperprotective, and this is fully understandable if they are fully convinced that intellectual property issues are at stake. Much less so if the attuitude is psychological. In fact, any good KM expert ia able to devise an implementable process for our needs. The only point is that this requires time and effort. Any help anyone?

  3. After reading Ms Johnson’s paper, one thing struck me: How come universities that are the ultimate repositories of knowledge, rarely practice knowledge management?

    This despite the fact they may do extensive research in the subject.

    As a lecturer at communications college in the late 1990s we used to quip: “we teach communications but we don’t practice it.”

    The insight we may draw from this is that relationships are inherently human, they’re dynamic and interactive. They involve the merging of tacit and explicit in a human being. Remove the human being and tacit knowledge disappears—and with it, the ability to form meaningful mutually beneficial relationships.

    That may explain why great thinkers like Harvard’s Michael. Porter seem to transcend institutions where they teach. It’s the interaction of their tacit and explicit that makes them great.

    We may be asking the wrong questions in this knowledge management wild goose chase.

  4. I may say that Ms. Johnson did a good job though I don’t know how effective will this be. Yes, personal experience/influence matters a lot when trying to put across a message directed to a group of people. I might get back to you once I read the paper.

  5. I am very grateful for these contributions, as each adds on -without denying the basic vision which justifies the final paper- while at the same time indicates the need to dig into the actual process of how, keeping in mind the various suggested caveats, this vision can actually be implemented in an organization.

    I certainly understand what Brian is implying, and accept the idea that the branding process (significantly more than the brand in itself) is one other possible approach to stakeholder relationship governance.

    The issue of trust in implementing a relational database along the lines Kristin outline is indeed sensitive, Peter, and this, in my view, is one of the more interesting aspects of the exercise. Wish you will want to elaborate further and somewhat unpackage the concept of trust in this specific instance.

    I might have misunderstood your note, Ricky, but it seems to me that one of more relevant competencies of a public relations professional is the evaluation of the importance to a specific organization of a specific stakeholder. This competence presumable already being on board, the issue is how to transit the knowldege from tacit to (of course relative..) explicit.

    Julius, I am eager to receive your feedback after you have read the paper.

    While I agree with Don on his initial thoughts, I wonder how this necessarily implies that the questions asked were wrong and/or, in any case, oriented to a wild goose chase. Would be interesting to understand better.

    Thank you for your attention, hoping that you will wish to continue the conversation.

  6. A relational model can be applied here to further enhance the paper. However, Ms. Johnson faces a tremendous challenge–how to measure the “influence” of the individual in the organization. The org chart is not reflective of this. Neither is it noteworthy to attribute brand building as a way to build trust and transpose it and disperse it among members of the organisation.

    Ricky Rivera

    Business & Marketing Manager

    Geisermaclang Marketing Communications Inc.

  7. Ms. Johnson’s paper illustrates both opportunity and challenge developing a relational database.  Not the least of which is trust—trust that the “sanctity” of relationships will not be violated for other than approved purposes; trust that the third-party relationship “seeker” has appropriate rank, status, title to call on the relationship; trust that relationship sharing works upstream as well as downstream the org chart; trust that managing all of the above isn’t a full-time occupation for those of us with high-value relationships.  That’s a lot of trust.

    But I like where this is going.  If I want my external stakeholders to trust me, my company, my brand—I would be well advised to build that trust internally first.

    Peter McLaughlin

    Global Group Manager, Public Relations

    Infosys Technologies Limited

  8. This is an intriguing project. My first thoughts on this scream at me that we’re reinventing the wheel here. Organizations have, indeed, discovered how to transform individual relationships into organizational relationships–through the corporate brand. I know it has been a contested idea, but the whole point behind branding is that individuals form a personal relationship with the organization based on personal interaction with the organization’s products, services, and brand agents, including customer service representatives, employees, and other individuals with whom they come in contact. I know that Grunig argued that you cannot have a relationship with a brand, but work by Keller shows otherwise–at least, it provides a framework in which one can, indeed, have a personal relationship with a brand.

    anyway, that’s my 2 cents worth

    Brian Smith

    Univ. of MD

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