Recently, I completed the process of writing a white paper on digital disruption in the government relations (GR) profession. The paper – which focuses largely on GR teams working within public relations agencies – was the culmination of months of interviews and surveys carried out by our business development team.

I spent hours pouring over records and carrying out in-depth discussions with colleagues. The goal? To find some of the biggest sources of frustration among GR professionals. Which work-related anxieties are keeping practitioners up at night? What makes them want to run straight to the airport, leaving their work behind to catch the first flight to some sunny destination? The answers to these questions have informed our latest paper, which describes some of the biggest challenges in GR. It explores existing and future solutions, and follows trends that will continue to grow in the years ahead. At the heart of this discussion is digital disruption, a phenomenon poised to transform the GR industry.

When I started this paper, I didn’t know how widespread the phenomenon is. I was surprised to find that disruption is about to change every major industry (at least if the experts are to be believed – and they make very compelling arguments). This wasn’t the only surprise to come out of completing this project. Below are four major insights I uncovered during the completion of Gnowit’s recent white paper.


1) Digital disruption is coming to the government relations profession


How is digital disruption different from innovation? In a 2013 article on the subject, Forbes writer Caroline Howard writes, “disruption displaces an existing market, industry, or technology and produces something new and more efficient or worthwhile”. In the music, journalism, and entertainment industries, this process has played out in obvious ways. Digital technologies have lead to the creation of services such as online newspapers and Netflix, which have upended traditional business models. But did you know that digital disruption has begun to enter other, less-expected fields, such as banking and government? We can add to this list to the GR industry, where the seeds of disruption have already been planted.

In a recent Gnowit survey, many GR professionals pointed to information overload – quite possibly the biggest challenge of the digital era – as a major obstacle. Others were more focused on what seems like a perpetual lack of time, which is – in many cases – connected to the vast number of digital sources that need to be monitored. In past decades, many of these problems didn’t exist; others didn’t exist on the same scale. These are contemporary problems that require digital solutions.

Among GR practitioners, there is a growing awareness of the necessity of going digital. The use of automated-monitoring software is already common practice. Yet most of our survey respondents agreed that technology is under utilized in their industry, indicating a demand for more digital solutions. In other words: the stage is set for digital disruption.

2) GR Professionals Deal With a Special Form of Information Overload


In addition to the commonly-referenced form of information overload (which is blamed solely on technology and the media), GR professionals must deal with a separate but similar set of problems related to large quantities of data. Many of the issues my colleagues discussed came from professionals who feel bombarded not only by the media-generated information they monitor, but the content of government proceedings.

Manually monitoring the government can mean sitting through televised committee meetings or listening to audio recordings of city council meetings. Many of our interviewees described waiting and waiting for references to topics they were tracking, only to find that these references were fleeting or useless. The hours devoted to this process add up.

In addition to wasting time – a common consequence of information overload – this process can affect the listener’s ability to process what they’re hearing, increasing the likelihood that time-sensitive information will slip through the cracks. Though it doesn’t conform to popular narratives of information overload (which attribute the problem primarily to technology), monitoring government proceedings obviously causes similar issues, with many of the same consequences.


3)  Executives are doing a lot of Analyst Work


I was surprised to find that, in many GR teams, seniors and executives are carrying out some of the same responsibilities as analysts. My colleagues spoke to professionals in senior and executive roles who were scrambling to complete basic monitoring tasks in addition to their other duties. Our survey bore this out. A large portion of seniors and executives surveyed answered the question “who, specifically, monitors government proceedings in your GR team?” with, “myself”.

For these individuals, the result is often less time with clients and less time performing higher-level analysis. This is yet another consequence of information overload, an issue that can be tackled with existing technologies and a bit of strategy.


4)  Municipal Monitoring Matters


I found this point so interesting, I wrote an entire blog post about it.

Traditionally, GR professionals have focused almost exclusively on monitoring the federal and provincial governments. However, in recent years, there has been increased interest in monitoring at the municipal level. Certain industries – such as construction and real estate – have always had a stake in following municipal government, but now professionals from other fields are starting to get in on the act.

This trend first came to my attention during the research phase of the white paper. Our interviewees indicated that, although the big four municipalities – Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, and Calgary – are of primary interest, there are certainly projects for which monitoring smaller cities is useful. Municipal monitoring comes with its own special challenges, all of which will require improved solutions in the coming years. Luckily, there are promising new technologies in development. For details, click on the blog post linked above, or check out our white paper.


An Informative Experience

Each of the 4 insights contained in this blog post are related, in one way or another, to the emergence of digital disruption in the GR industry. I found that the vast majority of issues reported by our survey respondents and interviewees were either caused by disruption (within GR or closely-related industries) or on the verge of becoming much more serious because of it.

While writing this paper, I learned about more than just a single industry. I discovered a widespread movement that is – slowly but surely – transforming every sector of Canadian society.

For more insights, including solutions to some of the industry’s most pressing problems, check out our white paper,  Digital Disruption: What Every Government Relations Professional Should Know.

Feature Image: Bob Linsdell