Canadian Interview: Fraser Likely

Fraser Likely is president and managing partner of Likely Communication Strategies in Ottawa.

Fraser Likely is president and managing partner of Likely Communication Strategies in Ottawa. Roughly half of his firm's work has been with the Government of Canada, a long-time client for which the firm works to review and renew their 40 to 300-person communication branches. Likely spoke to PRWeek about communication innovations at the federal government, why he'd like to see fewer blog postings about social media, and what hockey has taught him about PR.

For 2009, you've forecasted a cutback in PR measurement. How can PR divisions adjust to such cutbacks?
If one believes that this recession will be deep and hard, then it follows that there will be less capital available for new brand and product development leading to less marketing and thus less marketing public relations. Marketing PR is where we do most of our measurement now—particularly media publicity—so it stands to reason there will be less marketing-related media measurement. But there are some opportunities. A deep and hard recession will place great strain on organizations, especially on organizational-employee relations. This is where we must adjust and spend most of whatever measurement dollars we have left on measuring PR's contribution to an organization's change management initiatives. Finally, both in terms of formative and evaluative research, we should move reputation measurement money to measuring specific stakeholder relationships. Existing customer relationship and investor/shareholder relationship measurement are obvious choices but we should not neglect societal interest groups. The loss of traditional hierarchical order found in periods of recession could lead publics to be less deferential, requiring organizations to place more importance on organizational-stakeholder relations.

You are known internationally for your work in federal government communications. What aspects of government PR are you focused on now?
I am very supportive of the work of the Communication Community Office (CCO). It's a group of about half a dozen people and is funded by the 35 largest communication branches in the government, with a volunteer board of directors. They research and implement programs to better communication management practices. The federal government, at this point, doesn't have enough communications people; there is not enough new blood coming in. The CCO is targeting kids coming out of PR programs, marketing the federal government as a good career choice. The CCO also commissions studies that benchmark the management, budgetary, human resource, organizational, reporting, staffing, and leadership practices of the 35 branches. These studies are unique and I'm proud of the fact that I've conducted all four. The work of the CCO is a story just begging to be told around the PR world.

Do you follow online discussions about social media?
Yes, I do. I do find, though, that there is still more opinion than knowledge expressed in online discussions about social media. Too many evangelical shout-outs that social media is changing the world and too little knowledge or examples of where it has. It is also time consuming to separate the wheat from the chaff. [There are] too few shepherds and too many sheep. Right now I see social media or user-generated media as just channels and vehicles of communication, as part of a comprehensive arsenal of ways and means… While I think there is a correlation between cultural change and social media use, I can't say that it's social media that's driving cultural change—and not the other way around. Personally, I appreciate more someone in PR spending six months producing an in-depth research white paper than that same person blogging every day for six months.

You like to play hockey. What have you learned from hockey that you've applied to your job?
First, it's a lot like strategic planning. You have to see the whole ice surface - the big picture. And no matter where you think the puck (the planning strategy!) is going, there is always someone or something that will get in the way and change the direction…Second, playing shinny hockey on a cold Sunday afternoon with a blue sky, sun and white snow is about building relationships, building community. Every one plays at the same time regardless of age, sex or ability. The youngest picks the two teams and away you go.

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