Thanks to Margaretha Sjoberg’s leadership, current Chair of Cerp (the Confederation of European public relations associations, today a substantial and active part of the Global Alliance); and to the warm and friendly hospitality of our colleagues and friends from the Turkish PR Association, the Cerp Board held the other day in Istanbul a lively discussion on where the profession might be in five years time and what associations should therefore be doing today to accelerate opportunities, while identifying and attempting to correct major threats. ..It was agreed that all national member association boards should put this item on their agenda in order to evaluate the possibility and contents of a common policy and, where possible, a common action plan.As one might have expected, the discussion began about whether discussing that very issue had any sense in itsefl…but soon enough this understandable buyt purely defensive initial resistance was overcome and the issue went to the table.
Two positions emerged quite vividly.
On one side of the coin (Pangloss, as it was defined):
°the profession is booming, it is more and more demanded and valued by all sorts of organizations, investments are increasing, roles are progressively consolidating, new practices are emerging, universities are improving and expanding their offer, while students are flocking classrooms.
As all this happens, professional associations are growing their membership, gaining increasing consensus in society and improving their managerial performances.
So what is needed for the next five years from associations is.. more of the same:
i.e. the ability to attract those who are not members; satisfy the expectations of those who are; effectively represent the legitimacy, role and status of the profession in public opinion; support the improvement of the education system and ensure lifelong learning opportunities to members.
On the other side of the coin (Cassandra, as it was defined):
°just because the profession is in an economic boom, this is the right time for responsible professional associations to identify major risks and address them before they deteriorate what already appears to some as a state of crisis.
Some snapshots: social media are disintermediating a substantial part of current public relations practices, while other marketing and communication disciplines appear more prepared to take advantage of the transition from communication to relationship market priorities;
activist groups, media and other constituencies are increasingly vocal and critical of the legitimacy of a profession principally used to protect strong interests, debilitate the democratic process, manipulate public policy as well as public opinion;
increasing access of individuals in the profession, a lack of any enforceable practice control by professional associations representing only a tiny minority of practitioners and the absence of organisational and managerial competences in education curricula, as well as the awareness of the profession amongst the very professionals are all de-professionalising factors.
So what is needed for the next five years from associations is….yes, sure….more of the same…but with a stronger sense of urgency, more serious member involvement processes, stronger focus on practice control, more outspoken public denunciation of malpractices from members as well as non members, a tense attention to managerial and organizational competences in both university and lifelong learning curricula and more immediate concern for the public interest consequences and the social responsibilities of our professional practices.
If you takes a deep breath and say… ‘and.. what else is new?’ nobody would disagree with you .
However in any organization, if you decide to step on the accelerator of issues 1-3-5 and reduce your focus on 2-4-6 you are in fact readdressing your priorities, and this can have a major impact on the consequences you are liable to produce.
Short of a revolution (which does not appear to be an acceptable process, given the profession’s overall economic success), what emerges from the Istanbul meeting seemed, to at least one participant, the need to accelerate the awareness process within association boards and -where they exist- staff groups that, if not a crisis team (considered a blasphemy..), at least a concerted change or transformation management effort is needed and urgent.
Now we shall see if something happens.
In the meantime and to support or criticise this process please express your thoughts….