I recently attended a Knowledge Management Round Table here in Sydney.
The speakers’ case studies were insightful, and while it hadn’t especially occurred to me before, I recognised an affiliation between what I might call public relations and what they do, which is to garner, manage and disseminate knowledge and wisdom, not just facts and data.
As someone at the session noted, there’s a difference between having the facts, and understanding what they mean and what to do with them.
The two disciplines complement each other well assuming there’s a distinction at all, which I think there is. (While knowledge management usually has the connotation of managing and sharing knowledge (not data), public relations has the connotation of sharing and communicating messages and positions.)
At its simplest, knowledge management seeks to share and empower, public relations seeks to inform and influence.
But in the garnering of data and knowledge we have, at the most simplistic of levels, a source of public relations stories. At the tactical level, acquiring knowledge feeds PR programmes.
But there’s a more subtle, more strategic cross-over that provides much deeper benefits. The knowledge acquired and shared through knowledge management systems and processes sets a tone and influences the culture of an organisation, and that defines its position in the market.
And that’s the preserve and the responsibility of the public relations professional.
Here’s an example from the round table (kept anonymous because these sessions are under Chatham House rules). One of the case studies involved the acquisition and sharing of the knowledge, experience and wisdom of two employees who were about to retire. The organisation needed to capture what they did, package that information and knowledge and share it with those who remained with the organisation.
In both cases, decades of expertise, hard-won experience and instinct was to be distilled into the package of knowledge. And both people had roles that were crucial to the organisation.
It struck me that the mere act of performing this exercise, which was done over a number of weeks as a structured process, was itself a story.
Of itself, it reflected a position for the organisation that was worthy of a wider, external audience.
Clearly the presentation of the knowledge to the immediate colleagues who were to pick up the reins had an internal communication element, including the potential for creativity. (The knowledge management team had been more prosaic in how they shared the information. We bounced a few ideas around over lunch.)
And there was the potential to repackage the knowledge for much broader dissemination within the organisation which would demonstrate commitment to the employees, and an acknowledgement of the commitment shown by the two employees over decades of service, designed to present something of the organisation’s culture to a broader internal audience.
If communication is about being clear, concise and cogent, about equipping employees to be advocates and ambassadors, about contextualising communications with business objectives, about creating value and helping people find it, then knowledge management and public relations have a symbiotic relationship.
The world of the PR professional is broadening. The disciplines that touch ours are varied and increase in number.
The concept of a distinct public relations function is perhaps fracturing.
And we can play a more strategic role in working with functions such as knowledge management, and taking the lead in doing so.
(For more information on the Knowledge Management Round Table, go to www.sirfrt.com.au. They are not a client.)