Global Body Of Knowledge – An important but Herculean task

Ten months ago I published a blog about a project to develop an internationally recognised competency framework for the PR profession.

The ‘Global Body Of Knowledge’, is an attempt to have one set of standards and a pool of learning to help steer the world’s PR practitioners throughout their career and to establish PR on a professional footing. To put it another way, the PR industry is taking a big step to being recognised as a true profession. One that operates globally.

So PRs from Varanasi to Vancouver, Bristol to Buenos Aires can develop their careers in the knowledge that their skillsets, expertise and experience will be accepted wherever their career takes them across the world.

The project team having moved on from the 2015 consultation stage and revealed at the recent World Public Relations Forum in Toronto, Canada, the latest version of the framework. This version, building on the feedback from the consultation, details the skillsets for two stages of practitioners – entry level and senior level/mid-career.

An unexpected complication was that the exchange of ideas pulled together past/current practice (20th Century) at the expense of thinking about tomorrow’s needs and expectations (21st Century). I did not say it was going to be easy and neither did those who decided to take on this Herculean task!

So next step, undertaken by Anne Gregory and Johanna Fawkes at the University of Huddersfield, will be to deliver a framework which will help define the competent PR Practitioner of tomorrow.

When I wrote about the project last year, I described it this way:

Often our industry is wracked with low confidence, lower aspirations, and an inability to express the importance of the role and self-doubts when it should be promoting itself. A new global standard of professionalism might help change this.

Stephen Waddington in his characteristic direct way goes to the heart of the issue in his recent blog.

Less than 3% of public relations practitioners participate in a credentialing scheme. It’s an issue that needs urgent attention.

If we don’t have recognised professional standards, proving that Public Relations is a profession becomes more difficult.  The team’s next deadline is to present the framework at the next WPRF in Oslo in 2018.

They have accomplished a lot over last two years. I can’t wait to see what 2018 brings.


Should we add Customer Relations to our PR toolkit?

Dealing with Customer Relations is not as easy or as satisfying as it should be.

You can either be met with great service and have your issue resolved to your satisfaction or it can be akin to Hercules cleaning out the Augean stables; the more you are drawn in the more horrible the experience.  Unfortunately, I have my share of the latter but how can you ensure that Customer Relations are not the weak link when it comes to engaging with your audience?

On a 2015 trip to India, both my wife and I had our own Herculean experience when dealing with companies.

For me,  it was dealing with Swissair. It started small as many issues do with an issue with their website’s seat reservation function and should have been resolved quickly but unfortunately it snowballed.  lt led to a tortuous call to Customer Relations and being told after 20 mins that a) the website was actually down and b) that I had to call several numbers including one in Germany to resolve it!

At least it was not potentially dangerous as was my wife’s treatment at the hands of her bank, Barclays.

Despite popping into two branches and telling them, she was off to holiday in India, buying travel insurance from them re same and phoning from India with an account query, they put a block on her card because of unusual  spending patterns i.e. she was using her card in India!

They have since apologised for the ‘embarrassment’ but as she rightly told them it was nothing to do with embarrassment. She was  11000km from home and her main method of payment was stopped; because her bank did not listen to her.

How many have had the experience that Customer Relations is not listening to their issue?

I contacted adidas Customer Relations for maintenance advice on a pair of Gore-Tex boots. They asked me for details of when I bought them (and if I had the receipt) telling me they could not help me until I find it.

I went back through my bank account and found the details and they said to that they could not give me a refund or exchange. What???   I did not ask for a refund or exchange but maintenance advice.

So five days after my initial request and back and forth between adidas and myself, they responded by answering a question I hadn’t even asked, even though I had said to them during the process why a receipt would improve the chance of getting advice on the upkeep of my boots!

Outcome.  No apology for the waste of time but a curt response saying that they were unable to help as they could not find details of the boots.

This might sound like a catalogue of whinges but there is a serious point to all this. My views of the above companies are not just based on my experiences using their products/services but also how I rate their response when I contact them to say those products/services do not meet my expectations.

If I feel that I am not being listened to how can my experience be anything but negative?

As a communicator, my role is to build constructive two-way engagement between an organisation and its audience using all the channels at my disposal.

However, how often do PRs consider Customer Services as part of that range of channels?

If a product fails, the public won’t contact the sales dept., marketing dept., the press office or the R&D department. They will contact the Customer Relations team;  and they will rate their experience of your company on the response they get from Customer Relations.

If the Customer Relations team is not part of the communications function, then the interaction between the public and the company might not be a strong and positive one. I see a two disciplines running along parallel lines, with the same goals but never interacting with each other.

That is a major issue.

Imagine a product is being launched across Europe supported by an integrated communications plan but customer relations, your accessible public face, is not part of the planning. What if there is an issue with the new product? By the time, a plan is pulled together to handle the situation, customer relations have already been talking to your customers … and those customers have been speaking to their own network.

Elena Verlee, founder of Cross Border Communications wrote an article in her PR in your pyjamas blog, which looked deeper into this. Of particularly interest were her observations on:

  1. PR and Customer Relations Departments should be actively involved with each other.
  2. Customer Relations and social media manager roles are merging.
  3. Reiterate that PR and Customer Relations are part of everyone’s job description.

Much of PR is reaching out to your audience; the Customer Relations team has the public banging on their door every day.

I feel that a trick is being missed by not having Customer Relations formally considered a part of Public Relations.