'Soft assets' to become vital
PR must be taken seriously as a strategic corporate discipline if companies are to succeed in tomorrow's business world, warned Alison Canning, First&42nd MD.
As the internet opens up global access to corporate information, Canning believes businesses will have to recognise the importance of 'soft assets' such as brand and reputation which will become crucial to achieving competitive advantage. However, Canning also warned, as communications rises up the corporate agenda, PROs will face competition from disciplines such as management consultancy. 'I believe the only answer is turning our art into a science,' she added.
Social responsibility to the fore
The rise of the ethical consumer is becoming a reality according to research by pollsters MORI. Commissioned by The Co-operative Bank, this found that 70 per cent of the public believes industry and commerce do not pay enough attention to social responsibilities. One in six of the population now frequently buys or boycotts products because of the manufacturer's reputation. 'Corporate social responsibility has become a key business driver', said MORI chairman Robert Worcester.
Reputations will be audited
PROs are in danger of being muscled out of the battle to be company reputation managers.
Under the company law review, to come into effect next month, businesses will have to include intangible assets such as reputation in company audits. The process of social auditing is something PROs could and should be doing, said Abel Hadden consultant Patrick Roberts.
However, he warned that competition in this emerging area was coming from risk management professionals, lawyers and brand management specialists.
'Otherwise PROs will be stuck doing press releases while they (the auditors) are in the boardroom,' he warned.
Opportunity to pitch for PRE-fix
The IPR group and PRCA-backed PRE-fix is on the verge of appointing a comms consultant to launch its campaign next month. The workshop on evaluation touched briefly on PRE-fix - Planning Research and Evaluation - which spun-off from PR Week's Proof campaign and aims to integrate these disciplines into all PR campaigns. PRE-fix chairman Martin Loat said the campaigning body would appoint its own PRO within the next month. PRE-fix has commissioned MORI research into client attitudes to the use of research in communications.
Unions can break down barriers
Employee relations is set to become a major growth area for PROs, predicts Peter Rendall, chairman of the PR Organisation. Under the Employment Relations Act 1999, any company with more than 20 staff must recognise a union if over half the employees approve.
In the US, similar regulations have led to the practice of 'union busting', with law firms and consultancies specialising in defeating unions. According to Rendall, these companies are looking to enter the UK to exploit fears of a return to 1970s-style union militancy. To avoid employing expensive union busters, employee involvement is needed to break down the 'them and us' barrier.
'Companies need to focus on implementing issues, an integral part of this has to be two-way communications,' said Rendall.