IT Conference Reveals Unexpected Connection with PR

Ask most PR people whether they’d like to attend a conference filled with IT people. Go on, ask. Read the conference brochure and marvel at “2000 Years of IT Service Management,” “Achieving Technology and Business Superiority through IT Organizational Transformation,” and “IT Alignment: It Takes Two to Tango.”  It turned out to be one of the best conferences I’ve ever attended.

Everyone should take the time to assess their own objectives for attending a conference, seminar, luncheon or other event. Think through what you want to get out of it, what you’re willing to put into it. My objective, this summer, is to expand the network, among people who might want to engage my services.  I’ve been marketing myself through social media, and among communication organizations — the IABC Conference, my presentation to Lake Communicators, and this fall’s presentations at the PRSA International Conference and IABC’s Research and Measurement Conference.

While reviewing networking opportunities here in Cleveland on Pat Ropchock’s blog (she’s locked in big time), I noted “Integrate 2010: Uniting the World of IT” put on by the Greater Cleveland Local Interest Group of the ITSMFUSA — it’s a mouthful of an acronym that means, “IT people who want to be more relevant and strategic.”  They call the main discipline Service Management,” a process for aligning IT services with the needs of the enterprise.

The themes that emerged from most of the presentations I saw were fascinating.

  • IT feels like it’s not at the leadership table. Instead, they’re brought in after the business strategy’s in place and have to scramble to make things happen.
  • IT struggles to articulate its business value for all but a handful of services.
  • IT gets stuck on describing activities rather than defining its service portfolio in terms that the business leadership understands.
  • IT often can’t “sell” itself effectively, caught up in jargon and technical detail that isn’t relevant to leadership.

What happens if we replace “IT” with “PR” or “Corporate Communication?”

  • A consistent theme of IABC/PRSA material for years was “winning a seat at the table,” and then keeping it. We’ve been talking amongst ourselves for as long as I’ve been in the business about being business people first and communicators second. Yet, we’re still not there consistently.
  • Think about the debates over measurement methods — PR activity is difficult to isolate in the communication mix, and there are no standard answers for return on communication investment. Just last year, PRSA and the Institute for PR began working on a project to prove the business value of our profession. Internal communication is especially vulnerable to the question of ROI — and social media value outside of direct sales is still an unfinished book.
  • PR/Communications people frequently take as a given that their professional activities are impactful, regardless of the lack of data to support that claim. Our “service book” describes our activity from our perspective, not from that of our customers.
  • We (especially in internal communications) tend to resort to tactical explanations using our own lingo, rather than speaking about our work in terms readily understood by HR, Finance and leadership.

Sometimes it may seem like IT is on a different planet — more science than art, more Mars than Venus.  We, however, aren’t that different in our desires to be taken seriously by leadership as business people who employ specialized skills.

In addition to a few other things I discovered, this knowledge about IT was worth the price of admission.

More to follow on the conference shortly.


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5 Responses to “IT Conference Reveals Unexpected Connection with PR”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sean Williams, Craig Pearce. Craig Pearce said: IT and PR – business bedmates with similar 'issues' says @CommAMMO Terrific post […]

  2. Pam Calvey says:

    May I say, Sean, it was a pleasure to see you in the communicator role at an IT conference! I’m sure the participants received value from your insights. Your measurement capabilities have always intrigued me as applied to the Knowledge Management process. An organization can pump out thousands of knowledge documents a year, but without measuring the quality and outcome of the communications to internal and external clients, how do we know if issues are resolved at the lowest cost level? Furthermore, we need to measure the contributor’s value to the process with sound measurement practices. If these factors are not built into the KM process, it is hard to pull the data later.

  3. Sean says:

    Thanks Pam — we need to chat a bit on KM — in the next post, I’m going to talk a bit about some of the presentations from ITSMF – so stay tuned!

    thanks for your comment.

  4. Davi Park says:

    What a great story of parallels: IT and PR. Both striving for places at the top table: still!

    But perhaps for both, the top table will be increasingly nudged closer to us via the communications revolution caused by the web. It’s changing the ground rules.

    On a separate point, I’m not sure I agree fully with your final bullet point about HR. My corporate affairs experience is that HR usually piggy-backs on the strategic thinking lead provided by PR. Often they make big decisions and turn to PR/corporate affairs to make strategic sense of them and re-interpret them such that most understand. So not just tactical as you underline, but strategic as well.

    Thanks for sharing your insights. I am now looking out for similar IT conferences.

  5. […] to Sean Williams for a mention in his blog, . Sean has his own communications practice and is involved with International Assoc. of Business […]