Public relations is engagement.

The definition of ‘engagement’ is fast becoming amorphous and ambiguous.

We now have the terms ‘social media engagement’ and ‘consumer engagement’, both of which are disciplines now taught in university communications and public relations courses.

Accurately defined, engagement is ‘an arrangement to do something or go somewhere’. Engagement is a commitment between two parties to a shared journey, over time. It has a clear purpose and future actions for both the person and entity initiating the communication and the recipient of that entreaty.

That definition has never been more apt than in the modern, two-way communication between governments, community organisations and business.

Enter a new term: ‘co-creation’.

Co-creation is a rethink on how to leverage ideas, map expectations and channel data to policy and program development and innovation.

A changing world

To fully understand engagement we need contemporary context.

In today’s world:

  • People expect to be engaged
  • People expect to be heard
  • People expect institutions to act in their best interests
  • People expect services on demand

Consumers now expect more, more than ever.

Digital revolution

We now live in a world where digital platforms and devices offer new possibilities and unprecedented access.

Ideas are created, implemented, developed and re-hatched at a rate unfathomable just ten years ago. We build on the textbooks we are given at university, following blogs, attending conferences, sharing findings with peer networks via social media. We do this via phone, PC, iPad throughout each and every day of our lives.

This means that all ages with all abilities can be engaged by institutions via a channel or medium that is relevant to them. What the PR industry calls ‘owned content’ also allows governments to present the facts in interactive formats such as infographics and data visualisation.

The current media landscape is complex

We are experiencing a constant deluge of information 24/7 but a narrowing of news content. We have more news sources but the same story is reported over and over again, all day and all night.

This narrowing of news content emphasises the importance of government owned content and interfaces to raise awareness of challenges, policies, programs and opportunities to be engaged and empowered.

When you communicate, how, the tone of voice, the visual expression of your idea – these are all important to being heard and understood at scale.

PR has evolved to adopt new media: social media, web video casting, crowdsourcing. While mainstream media is still a highly effective channel, PR more regularly comprises an integrated series of tactics across multiple platforms and channels.

How does professional public relations fit in?

Public relations is founded on two-way communication and this is absolutely the expectation of everyday Australians, empowered to express their opinions at work and in the local neighbourhood.

Public relations focuses on building relationships. If engagement is a journey, you want to know who is sitting next to you on the bus. How do you relate? Shared experience, shared goals or shared interests?

PR people invest in understanding human behaviour. If we are not hungry we don’t think about buying food. If governments are implementing education campaigns, the PR team will work out the time of day, the social context, the channel, the medium, and the message, most likely to bring about a shift in behaviour.

Professional public relations promotes effective and interactive communications between government and the public. It creates a positive communication environment and should enhance the quality of government information and communication.

One of the most important qualities of good PR people is awareness, and it is vital to effective engagement.

We all have a set of values, beliefs, attitudes, cultural norms and worldviews that inform how we perceive and react to different types of engagement. We also have personal and professional objectives to achieve. Influencing our decisions and behaviour are a complex range of social, cultural and economic factors.

Effective engagement begins with market economic, social, stakeholder influence and empathy mapping to firmly understand, and put engagement questioning and exercises, in context.

PR finds opportunities, taps into the zeitgeist and creates the ideal environment for engagement.

Ellis Jones knows public relations is engagement and works with business, community groups and government. Talk to us.

Image credit: Ed Schipul via Flickr Creative Commons