May we still claim that public relations is effective when an organization is able to perform the traditional and consolidated one company-one voice paradigm? Or has the growing convergence between the concepts of diversity and social media shattered this widely held stereotype in our professional community? I tried to raise this issue in my last post, but stimulated no reactions. Allow me please to elaborate somewhat and recount how I personally have become involved in this dilemma.Much of my professional upbringing I owe to seven intense years of practice and training inside the 3M Company from 1963 to 1970. I began with looking after product publicity and media relations in Italy, and ended my stint as director of public relations. 3M in those years manufactured and sold some 35.000 thousand products, relevant to at least 12 different value chains, mostly in business-to-business sectors, whose only common element was that at least one of the sides of the product incapsulated some sort of feature which enabled it to either capture added elements (scotch audio or video or data cassettes, for example), or transform other elements it would enter in touch with (plain scotch adhesive tapes, for example). The publicity paradigm for us at that time was to make sure that this ‘boilerplate concept’ of the company would always come across any written or oral or video expression used to identify us.An extreme example, if you wish. of how relevant the one company-one voice has always been for all of us working in public relations.More recently, when the Global Alliance of Public Relations and Communication Management was first formed in 2002, not one of the senior professionals from the 16 countries who were around the table discussing its formation budged an inch when the ‘one profession-one voice’ concept -which captured both the organization’s mission and vision- was tossed around the table and approved by all with a full round of applause…. simply because we all thought it was perfect. I was sitting at that table, and it never occurred to me that such a proposition could be debatable.
Then, as first Chair of the Alliance, I was invited in 2003 by my Spanish Dircom colleagues to their first International Forum and had the privilege to meet and speak at length with the reputed British sociologist, political thinker and leader Anthony Giddens. He opened my mind to the thought that globalisation, much more than having introduced global standards, had made us aware of the many diversities which existed in the world and which needed to be considered and included in our efforts to reach some sort of decent coexistence in society.
The use of the term ‘diversity’ for me, was a fixed notion which I had received from (and much admired in) Larissa Grunig whom I had met earlier on and who, every time we spoke, had an undesired (for her) and undesirable (for me) effect of making me feel like a male chauvinist pig or some sort of obsolete racist (I even shudder as I type the word, having always considered myself as a liberal, democratic and sometime-often? even radical leftist). Of course this does not happen any more, and I very much enjoy and value her company today as I have much changed since.
Also, I had been tinkering with computer networks, experimenting with the Internet as a relationship environment for many years and in 2004 I presented a paper in the annual Bled Symposium with my young friend Fabio Ventoruzzo on ‘Integrating real and virtual environments in stakeholder relationship management’ Ventoruzzo-Muzi1.pdf which made me realize, long before social media became today’s buzzword, how relevant our profession could be for organizations if only we proved to be able to understand and operate, besides its info/communication capabilities, the extraordinary potential the Internet as an environment in which stakeholder relationships may be facilitated. To all effects, I then argued, the public relations profession could/should have ridden and partly inspired this wave of transformation based on the ideas that: °each person is ‘diverse’; °mass communications had reached saturation; °communicating-to was least and least effective; °communication was only a tool to develop relationships; °relationships was a concept embedded in the very name and also dna of the public relations profession…and of course that °the Grunig (James, this time) two-way tendentially symmetrical model was only the early beginning of what we may today call the PR.02 school of thought.
From all these (and many more elements of thought) I proposed to the Global Alliance to dedicate the second World Public Relations Festival (Trieste, Italy June 2005) to the exploration of the concept of ‘Communicating for diversity, with diversity, in diversity’. Neither I, nor my friends of the Executive Board of the GA, ever expected the variety, quality and depth of this event nor did we imagine that, following this experience, we would probably have to reconsider our ‘one profession, one voice’ concept.
Ok… enough of this ‘how we were…’ mantra… I’ll close it up by confessing that the recent Ghent Euroblog 2007 symposium on social media organized by Euprera (see last post) really made me think that this ‘one company one voice’ paradigm is in dire need of a thorough revisiting. It is only a paradox, I know, but when my good friend Ivan Scalfarotto (who was at the time diversity manager Europe for Citigroup) told me: when two persons in a company express the same opinion, one is too many, I really began to have second thoughts on just about everything I had learned, practiced and taught!!!
So where does this leave us? Your reactions, opinions, thoughts?