Ulysses Sarkozy’s doing his thing…and Jean Pierre Beaudoin, one of France’s public relations superstars, comments on changing publics…

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Jean Pierre Beaudoin, one of France’s most reputed public relators, is not a particularly abundant writer and speaker; he is very careful at what he says; but when he does externate, one should pay great attention…there is always much more in his thoughts than in what he actually says

…and I have taken the habit of looking behind his thoughts…
His last ones you can read below and they are interesting in themselves, but I also ask you to keep in mind that the whole of Europe’s politcal, social and economic elites are well awake and closely watching Mr. Sarkozy’s first moves and please be aware of the recent definition of ‘liberal colbertist’ attributed to the French President by my compatriot Mario Monti, past commissioner for competition of the EU. Maybe these hints will come in handy in interpreting Jean Paul’s piece, or maye not…. I have no idea of what the author thinks of Sarkozy’s first moves, but somehow they seem to me to relate to the implications of Jean Paul’s considerations… your opinion?
Here we go:

We are now three quarters way into the first decade of the century. Decades and centuries are very good time-units when observing the evolution of public opinion, more so than just taking a year, or shorter periods (financial quarters, or media weeks, for example). Opinions change, indeed, but at a demographic pace, and real changes in the factors that structure opinions occur only with the changes of generations, i.e. about every 25 years. At least this is what the recent presidential election confirmed in France: 23 years had elapsed between 1958, when the 5th Republic was formed under Charles de Gaulle, and 1981, when the Left took over with François Mitterrand; 26 years have gone by between 1981 and 2007. Every deep change seems to coincide with the fact that the population also has changed profoundly, for reasons essentially linked to chronobiology… Opinions are about society, not about vogue.

So here we are with a generation that will take us into the 2030s, and we should be able to identify some of the factors which form its structure.

This generation has retrieved the taste for conquering frontiers. After the liberation generation and the conservation generation, here is the invention generation. Invention not as an incidental, exceptional element, but as a central component of ways of life. The French sociologist Jean-Claude Kaufmann had already noted the emergence of this trend three years ago(1). Moreover, the notion of « acquired rights » and their inherited intangibility is losing its lustre, because the number of people who have such rights is relatively on the decrease. Something else then must be invented, other ways of life and of living in society. Not saying that risktaking is becoming more popular (has it ever been in the broad sense?), but rather that daring is back. Not the sort of provocative daring which would make no sense, but daring to have an ambition, to take initiatives, to assert oneself. A situation whereby the need has become apparent to replace the « social escalator », which the liberation generation experienced, and which the conservation generation broke down, by something else: the springboard of creativity in an economy of intangibles.

Within this context, the « enterprise mode » is gradually winning over the « institutional mode », movement over inertia. With a few conditions though: to be associated to the creation of movements and not just to be carried away by them, and to verify that the movement of some does not just serve others’ inertia. And does not, in particular, serve the personal comfort of the few who decide on change without putting themselves at risk. In other words, the will to negotiate change in the way you negotiate a curve. In everything, negotiation has replaced the alternative of submission or revolt. It has become one of the expressions of individual creativity.
Today it may be said that collective bargaining lags behind individual creativity. Carried by organisations that behave like homogenizing institutions more than like differentiating enterprises, collective bargaining continues to impose itself (increasingly seeking recourse from the judge), but raises less and less public interest. The engagement capacity of leaders prevails to a higher degree in public opinion, over the inertia of institutions. Whether it be from the left or from the right. And, leaders are expected, evaluated and judged on their ability to engage themselves and to create conditions that are favourable to creating social dialogue. On this point, leaders are judged by an opinion which more or less consciously refers to what it considers to be « the right rules of the game ». And, rules precisely rather than laws.

This generation has developed a new sense for geographies. From public opinion’s point of view today, France no longer is « Paris and the Provinces ». France is a set of territories, each one offering a specific blend of features for professional and personal lives, a diverse offering of settings and ways of life. As do, at least for the population of « young actives », Ireland or Catalonia, or other regions of Europe. Out of the top three, two presidential candidates have shown that one can declare oneself in Bearn or in Poitou, that Paris no longer is an all-time must, no more than Berlin or London. Regional opinions have taken on their full share of value, and that is the case for national and even for broader issues.

The means of social communications, as they develop, come to meet an old cultural background of attachment to one’s soil at the same time as a desire for vast horizons. Being global but from one’s village is as old as Homer (at least), and this generation unknowingly is behaving like Ulysses.

Such a relationship to geographies is drawing a positive interface with globalisation, when globalisation means connecting the distant worlds with the local self instead of opposing them. The internet and the local media can mean the same thing, can lead to the same manners of inventing one’s personal geography by means of the options made available to each one. A few conditions though need to be taken on board: namely that the players of communication show their ability to reconcile, and not just in words, the necessity of the broader picture with respect to the individual’s anchorage.

All this tells us that, as Dominique Wolton puts it, we are moving into a mass individualist society, and the communication that goes along with it.

Jean-Pierre Beaudoin, general manager of i&e Group, jpbeaudoin@i-e.fr
(1) Jean-Claude Kaufmann : L’invention de soi, Albin Michel, 2004

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