Busy PR professionals often focus on what’s on their desk today. After putting out fires, responding to media, managing social media conversations or just trying to keep up with our own organization’s communication needs, there’s not much time to reflect on global PR issues and our profession.
While that’s not very strategic, it’s a reality for many of us. That’s why it’s good to know there’s a group working on a global effort to enhance the PR profession.
1,200 leading communicators from around the world will come together for discussion, debate, direction-setting and decision-making about the public relations profession.
As a backdrop to the Nov forum, I interviewed Canadian PR agency CEO Tisch and another Canadian PR leader, Jean Valin, who chaired the Alliance from 2003-2005.
Jeff Domansky: One of the challenges with global initiatives is relevance for the average communication professional. How does the work of the Alliance impact everyday PR professionals?
Dan Tisch: “The Global Alliance enables all the world’s major PR industry associations to come together on initiatives that benefit professionals over the long-term. First, we raise standards – for example, developing a universal code of ethics or analyzing and recommending best practices in PR standards. Second, we share knowledge by sponsoring research and making it available to professionals, such as our popular Landscapes country reports that show the state of PR practice in 25 countries – or the research that helped us identify the three priorities for the Melbourne Mandate. Third, we offer members of each association – such as PRSA, CPRS or IABC — seamless participation and recognition in a global professional community.”
Melbourne Mandate #1: Character
How can communicators contribute to defining, maintaining, assessing and sustaining an organization’s DNA or core character?
Domansky: In practical terms, how do PR professionals help define an organization’s character?
Jean Valin: “Internally, the role of PR is to check that the values stated are the values lived, and externally that they are recognized, understood, believed and supported by stakeholders. This can be assessed by a variety of research techniques.
I’ve personally helped define three organizations’ character in my career by engaging in a brand characteristic exercise where several segments of the organization – management, employees, and external stakeholders help define the organization’s brand attributes. This is a qualitative exercise arrived at through brainstorming sessions. In most cases, there are similarities and differences in the way the various segments define the organization. The gaps provide an ideal way to design a public relations program to address any divergence between what and how management wants to have everyone think of them – their reputation. Careful monitoring of these attributes and other elements that make up the character of the organization helps track progress.”
Domansky: What do you mean by a “creating a culture of listening and engagement”?
Tisch: “Near-universal access to digital and social networks makes communication a richer yet riskier process. This gives audiences and stakeholders new influence and power, but it transforms their expectations of organizations. Reputations can rise or fall overnight, and the brand that’s a hero today can become a villain tomorrow – and vice versa. Effective listening and engagement are the keys to understanding risks and seizing opportunities – and this can’t be left to the PR department alone. PR must help build a culture that embeds listening and engagement across the organization.”
Domansky: Can you give me an example of a culture of listening?
Valin: “The GA recently conducted a study of nine major multinational companies to contrast, compare and determine why they enjoyed a solid reputation by several indicators. The study will be published at the World PR Forum in Melbourne. At least four of the companies had a commitment to listen to their stakeholders, employees, suppliers, etc and we saw evidence that they are ‘walking the talk’.
A culture of listening is closely linked to a corporate culture of openness and transparency which is evident not only by triple bottom line annual reports but also how business is conducted. For example, one of the companies involved in our study deemed it important that all of their front line reception staff be trained in relationship management regardless of level in the company. This training emphasizes listening first and allows employees latitude to satisfy clients and visitors.”
Melbourne Mandate #2: Responsibility
What is our professional responsibility and what form should that take for public relations and communication practitioners now and in the future?
Domansky: In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges facing PR professionals today?
Tisch: “We asked leaders of the world’s major PR associations this question in our most recent global survey, published in early 2012. The big challenges that emerged included:
- using social media effectively to reduce risks and seize opportunities;
- applying ethics to communications decisions and defining organizational values to apply to all business decisions;
- and refining the way we measure and prove our value to business leaders and to society.
On this last point, I believe public relations advisors have largely won the battle to sit at the boardroom table – but the challenge is now to perform at the same level as other professions such as lawyers and accountants. Business literacy is the single most important skill we must hone in today’s public relations professionals.”
Domansky: The GA survey identified five critical roles for PR. Many senior management do not believe PR has a measurable impact and a real ROI. Isn’t contributing to the ROI of an organization an important part of the communication professional’s role?
Tisch: “Yes, without question there must be a return on an investment in PR. It’s sometimes hard to measure because reputation is an intangible asset, and because the quality of the relationships we build can also prevent massive costs to brands, reputations and valuations when issues or relationships are neglected.
The fact that the Melbourne Mandate isn’t focused on measurement doesn’t mean it’s not critical. We are now doing work on measurement and evaluation systems with other partners. In framing our themes for Melbourne, we looked at what senior professionals around the world told us were the key emerging areas of value of public relations to organizations and to society.”
Domansky: The GA chose “Communication without borders” as the theme for the Melbourne conference. Why is this theme important to PR professionals whose job may not involve international or even national communications?
Tisch: “The Global Alliance sees ‘communication without borders’ as powerful at several levels. We live in an age of blurred borders – between nations, within organizations, between professions, between the roles of governments, corporations and civil society, and between the creators and consumers of content. We live in an interdependent world – and even if your work is not international, it’s influenced by what’s happening beyond your national borders.
We see this as a great opportunity to turn this borderless world to our profession’s advantage. Since communication knows no borders, it’s essential that communicators collaborate across borders – to raise standards, share knowledge, strengthen our professional community and advocate for public relations in the public interest.”
Domansky: What practical outcomes do you hope to achieve with the Melbourne Mandate?
Valin: “The profession needs a global advocacy platform to grow in stature and correct misperceptions about what we do. Some people view public relations as an ‘add-on’ to marketing campaigns. Others view it as an essential function that encompasses all communication activities – beginning with listening, through the communication activities as well as a feedback loop to foster a culture of evergreen listening. The Melbourne Mandate succeeds the Stockholm Accords, which were taken to heart by many organizations as a model for the modern practice of public relations.
The global conversation to arrive at the Melbourne Mandate statements involves hundreds of practitioners from around the world.
Our hope is that post-Melbourne, members of the GA not only share the statements but debate and use them in their own advocacy activities to give the profession a strong global voice with a consistent message.”
Melbourne Mandate #3: Listening
*What are examples of exceptionally engaging and listening organisations?
*What structural and cultural conditions are in place in these organisations, e.g. in terms of technology, transparency, hierarchy, operations, governance, etc. etc.?
*How can they be measured or assessed?
*How can the PR function create, or help create, those conditions?
Domansky: How can the individual PR professional get involved in the work of the Global Alliance?
Valin: “We get this question a lot. There are many opportunities but here are three:
- The Melbourne Mandate is one of them. We genuinely want professionals to help us by participating in the online debate leading up to the Forum. It’s just one way we regularly engage the global practitioner and academic communities to share ideas that add to our profession’s body of knowledge.
- Use the GA’s research and content! When we develop an advocacy document such as the Stockholm Accords or Melbourne Mandate, we want practitioners to talk about it and use it to hone their own case for PR.
- The GA is volunteer-driven, as are almost all the national PR and communication management associations. I hope anyone who has an interest in the profession to get involved through their own national or international association, either locally or in many of the GA activities. We often ask our members to nominate practitioners for committee work in research, fundraising, member communications, planning for events or helping with our global standards.”
That was a wide-ranging interview with two very thoughtful PR pros. Tisch and Valin are just several of the hundreds of PR pros actively involved in the Global Alliance in addition to delegates. You can make a difference too by joining in this global PR conversation.
Add your voice prior to the Melbourne meetings in mid-November 2012. And watch for the research and papers from the conference to help build a stronger platform for the PR profession. I’ll be joining the PR conversation and I hope you will too.
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Author: Jeff Domansky
Visuals: Global Alliance