Authentic Enterprise and Institutionalization: from Arthur Page and the IPR to Euprera’s Congress in October in Milano

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In not many weeks some of us (scholars and professionals) will be in Milano participating at the Euprera annual Congress, which this year (October 16/17) is dedicated to the institutionalization of public relations.
Although there will be a relevant but small segment of participants from other areas of the world, it is reasonable to expect that most will be European, and therefore are likely to transfer European perspectives.
This is one good reason to review now and in this blog some recent relevant thinking and discussion originated in the United States, to support a framework for a debate which, although focussed on Europe, will also take into consideration other parts of the world.
And this is clearly an open invitation to visitors from Asia, Australasia, Africa, Latin America, Canada to actively contribute to this discussion now, before the beginning of the Congress.

There is a direct rss link to this blog on the interactive website of the congress which you may visit by clicking on the right hand column of this blog, and listen to and view insightful interviews on Institutionalization by Larissa and Jim Grunig, Frank Ovaitt, Betteke Van Rule, Sue Wolfenstholme, Anne Gregory, Ansgar Zerfass and the author of this post.

In recent months and weeks, a heated and stimulating conversation has been developing in the United States between:

°corporate directors of communication;

°leaders of major public relations agencies;

and

°academics from both business and communication studies.

The focus is an important paper on the Authentic Enterprise, delivered earlier this year by the Arthur Page Society, arguably the most relevant think tank of senior communication directors, and the implications of this concept on the institutionalization process.

This follow up debate has been promoted by the same Page Society, in conjunction with the Institute for Public Relations, arguably the most important institution dealing with research in, on and for public relations.

The two base documents of this debate are here for you to read:
a) the original page society document authentic
b) the discussion tuckwhich followed the release of that report.

With the intention of pinpointing a few key priorities from both documents which, at least to me, seem relevant in the context of the Milano congress for this post, I engaged in a friendly exchange Clemente Senni , a senior Italian colleague who now heads Burson Marsteller’s office in Italy’s capital Rome.

I have always cherished Clemente’s opinions as those of a seasoned and critical professional who has the very rare habit of asking himself at least once a day ‘what am I doing?’, and who also likes to conceptualize and rationalize his day-to-day professional practice.
We do have highly diverse political, cultural and social worldviews …but this is only one more reason for you to continue reading this post.

Clemente started his career in PR representing in Italy the Barcellona Trade Fair, and then moved to SCR Shandwick, Italy’s leading PR consultancy across the 80’s and 90’s. In 1992 he moved to Burson-Marsteller which he left two years later to start-up his own corporate and public affairs consultancy. He was back in B-M in late 2005 and now heads up the Rome business of the firm and the Italian energy, environment and climate change practice. Clemente’s experience ranges across virtually all disciplines of corporate PR. He advised leading multinational and national companies, public bodies, NGOs, and prominent politicians. He’s a member of Ferpi, the Italian PR professional association. Presently Clemente is involved in clients in energy, gaming, telecommunications, infrastructures and transport, and leads the Italian campaign for the release of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Here we go:

(toni)
The whole concept of managing appears to be changing (the Page papers suggest a transition from public relations directors moving from owning to leading the practice in the organization).
Although it was never so from an academic perspective, in day-to-day practice of the last century, management implied control of the work of others, power to impose values, rules, behaviours of employees and being responsible mostly to shareholders and regulators.
Do you believe this is still so today?

(clemente)

The Page report describes an arena that has changed dramatically due to three major factors – globalization, stakeholder empowerment, and the digital network revolution.

These factors operate in synergy, and pose new challenges not only to corporate communication executives but to the whole corporate world (and, it has to be added, to political and public sector organizations as well).

The report coins the concept of corporate authenticity as what is needed to be successful in this new landscape.

The point raises several questions:
what does authenticity mean?
is it measurable
and, most importantly,
would it be effective from a business perspective?
These questions need to be answered before claiming that PR pros are ideally placed for leading the process.

Coming to your question, it is no news that management functions are struggling with a sense of loss of control.
Egalitarianism, participation, openness – adjectives which fall under the concept framework of the Authentic Enterprise – have been adopted in the management culture due to the inability to maintain control within the comfortable zone of the C-suite.

(toni)
This authenticity fad reminds me of when in the late eighties Ketchum decided to abandon the concept of image and elaborated and promoted that of reputation.
Not much really changed in their day to day professional practice but the agency succeeded in claiming a distinctive feature which subsequently others even succeeded in transforming into an academic empire… while today, three decades down the line, the reputation school (industry?) has become a money making machine for organizations that do not know better.
One of my students referred to the authentic corporation concept as ‘the corniest of all politically correct buzzwords which public relators like to invent when they believe to be short of arguments’.
Of course I in no way agree with this ungenerous caricature, but what idea have you elaborated on the ‘authenticity’ (if you excuse me..) of this authenticity concept?

(clemente)

We are good with words and love to update the definition of our profession.
Sometimes it actually helps business.

Let me go back to the old fashioned “far bene e fallo sapere” (do well and tell others about it): it is much closer to the authenticity concept than the more recent reputation or perception management fads, at least it puts an accent on behaviours.

The caricature your student gave may be ungenerous but I think he/she is not completely wrong.

We must be sober in spreading out suggestive definitions of our role, especially if 90% of our day-to-day work has not changed that much.

Let’s put in place new methodologies and tools which actually work before telling the world what it should be doing.

Too many times we saw and still see PR would-be-gurus advocating practices they have never experienced or proven to be effective. Let’s, first of all, be authentic ourselves.

Let’s admit that we are also confused, that we are looking for solutions but have not yet found them.

(toni)
One of the major and most fascinating dilemmas which emerge from the two papers, has to do with the paradox of the institutionalized CCO who, at the same time is entrusted by the dominant coalition to listen, understand and interpret stakeholder expectations as objectively as possible, while operating as the ‘spokesperson’ of that same dominant coalition.
I ask you: have you encountered a company where the CCO really exercises that double role, and how is this apparent contradiction dealt with?

(clemente)

As long as the enterprise is genuine in its wish to be authentic (whatever that could mean) there will be no contradiction.
There could be difficulties.

The main one, as pointed out in the Institute’s discussion paper, is how to come up with a single set of values and positioning statements which could successfully apply to all stakeholders.

A major challenge indeed, especially when working on global scale or in complex arenas. I’m not sure I ever met a CCO who actually fits your description, but is not difficult to find many who pretend they do.

17 COMMENTS

  1. In the discussion above, a few aspects of the Authentic Enterprise Report was mentioned. I thought to mention a few more before we start discussing in earnest. (Most people have not read this 60-page report and we need a common framework for real insights to emerge).

    The first thing that came to my mind is: What does ‘authentic’ mean?
    • The Authentic Enterprise Report defines it as “conforming to fact and therefore worthy of trust, reliance, or belief”.
    • My dictionary provided synonyms like ‘genuine, real, known to be true’. (It is thus clear that ‘spin’ is a no-no in the Authentic Enterprise).
    • Wikipedia provided (from philosophy): “Being faithful to internal rather than external ideas”. To me the latter relates to the strong emphasis on values in the Authentic Enterprise Report, expressed as follows: that an enterprise must be grounded in a sure sense of why it exists, what it stands for and what differentiates it in a marketplace of customers, investors and employees. These definitions—called values, principles, beliefs or mission–must dictate consistent behavior and actions. Organisations can no longer be different things to different people.

    According to the Report, enterprises that successfully adapt to the new business and societal context will require new forms of leadership to tackle four key challenges:
    –to define and instill organisational values;
    –to build and manage multi-stakeholder relationships;
    –to enable its people with new media skills and tools;
    –to actively build and manage trust.
    Of all these challenges, the issue of trust was the most important—at the level of the individual, the enterprise and the broader societal environment. Trust is no longer a function only of compliance with laws and business ethics. Successful organisations must have a conscious strategy for building trust internally and externally, and operating in the public interest.

    In a survey conducted by the Arthur W Page Society in 2007 for this report, it was found that CEOs believe that we are at one of those inflection points in business history when new technologies combine with new economic and societal conditions to change the game in fundamental ways. Reactive and even proactive approaches are no longer adequate—rather interactive approaches with important stakeholders are required. While CEOs must lead the response, they are looking at their Chief Communications Officers (CCOs) to take a more strategic and interactive role within the senior leadership of the enterprise in driving these changes. (However, no single function can take sole responsibility—it will require a highly co-ordinated interfunctional collaborative approach).

    The Authentic Enterprise calls on CCOs to ‘lead’ the process of achieving corporate authenticity rather than ‘owning’ the process. This will involve that CCOs work with all functions to gauge whether the organisation is truly authentic and realigning it wherever it falls short in reflecting or conveying its definitive values. This marks a departure from business communications as usual—an enterprise must adapt the way it has traditionally managed and communicated with its stakeholders, relinquish some of its historic control and shift it back into the hands of stakeholders, empowering them with tools to keep them engaged.

    The bottom line is that the Authentic Enterprise must say who it is and what it stands for, and then do as it says. Substance, not image, is the name of the game (as I said, no spin). Furthermore, substantive corporate responsibility is now an important facet of building trustworthiness. Stakeholders now expect companies to acknowledge extra-financial responsibilities and accountability to the environment and greater society. The notion of authenticity underscores the importance of core values—not only ‘having’ them, but ‘using’ them as compass points to make promises and keep them. Building trust and credibility acts as protection and organizations can draw on a reputational reservoir when problems arise.

    The above is by no means a summary of the 60-page report. I have jotted down some key aspects as I took a quick look at the Report. It is only meant to give us some common framework to start the discussion. Hopefully others will point out further aspects of importance. My first impressions are that this is not mightily different from what most contributors at PRC believe the enterprise of today should look like. But then, most of us share a two-way symmetrical worldview for public relations/ corporate communication and many of us believe in a strategic role for public relations. And it is here that we could make a contribution to the expressed aim of the Report, namely to start a global discussion on the strategic role of public relations/ corporate communication in the Authentic Enterprise. How should this strategic role look and what should it entail to contribute towards the Authentic Enterprise? CCOs and academics are specifically requested to explore the concepts.

    More later after I had a further look at the Report. Please join in.

  2. benita, thank you for this. in your last sentence you write

    quote
    And it is here that we could make a contribution to the expressed aim of the Report, namely to start a global discussion on the strategic role of public relations/ corporate communication in the Authentic Enterprise. How should this strategic role look and what should it entail to contribute towards the Authentic Enterprise? CCOs and academics are specifically requested to explore the concepts.
    unquote

    in short, this is at least one of the the overall objectives of the Euprera Congress of Milano and, if you had the patience to go through the various video interviews with the many reputable and senior scholars and professionals on the congress site, many elements do come out to form this sort of framework, keeping in mind the negatives of the process as well as the positives.

    Basically it would seem to me more useful to our global community, for us to look at the ‘glass half empty’ part of the process and how to lower their undesirable consequences, rather than the ‘glass half full’ one.
    The latter being more obvious and easy, can be left to the many panglossians to sort out and describe.

    It would really be great if, also in collecting here suggestions and opinions by the many of those who will not be able to participate to the Congress, and integrating these to the contents which will come from the papers to be presented, we could all come up with a ‘consensus based’ framework of reference from the global public relations community for the institutionalization of public relations process, which we could strongly advocate with all our stakeholders: from the business, social, and public sector communities in our different regions.

  3. If I may be so bold as to speak on behalf of the visitors to the blog from Asia, Australasia, Africa, Latin America and Canada, it is my contention that (with the possible exception of Canada and Australia) most of our practitioners and academics have probably never heard of the Authentic Enterprise Report and might not all be clear on what the ‘Institutionalisation of PR’ (the topic of the Euprera Conference in Milan 16-18 Oct) really means.

    Toni, I consider the topic you have raised in this post to be of extreme importance to the future of PR and would dearly love to read comments from all over the world (and to contribute myself), but it is a huge chunk to bite off and I hardly know where to start. I know it is my academic training that is causing this blank, but before I know what the main contents of the 60-page Authentic Enterprise Report is and what the pattern is from the insightful interviews on the Euprera website, it is difficult to discuss the possible linkages and differences between them and even more so, to come up with original contributions. Therefore, since you probably know the gist of the conversation on the Euprera website, can you please help me and our other readers by providing a paragraph in this regard and also give some pointers on the contents of the ‘glass half empty’ and the ‘glass half full’. And if Roger Bolton, former CCO at Aetna (who commissioned the Authentic Enterprise Report during his tenure as President of the Arthur Page Society) or Jon Iwata, Senior VP Communications, IBM (one of the principal authors of The Authentic Enterprise) are awake out there, if would be awfully nice if you could ‘weigh in’ (see Judy, I am fast learning Canadian-speak).

  4. The general direction in which the communication management field of study is currently developing is exciting. I perused the Authentic Enterprise Report and concur with the suggestion that the time is now right for the CCO to assume a strong leadership role in the organisation in terms of values, stakeholder relationships, “new media” skills and trust. Gone are the days of feeling sorry for ourselves that we are not in the C-suite. Our chair is waiting for us – we just need to come to the table with the necessary knowledge of the organisation and industry we are working in, as well as knowledge about our profession and how we can add value. Or in the words of Clemente “do well and tell others about it”.

    In my experience, senior management now realises that the proper management of the communication function can make a strategic difference to the triple bottom line. To illustrate how open senior management in South Africa is to the fact that our discipline can make a difference, the King Report III on corporate governance in SA (due to appear in January 2009) will have a separate chapter on Stakeholder Relationship Management (my direct involvement with the writing of the Report has lead to senior managers realising that a proactive approach to managing relationships and communication is much better than a reactive one).

    Although changing the perceptions of senior management about the strategic role of the communication function in the organisation is a slow process, communication managers in SA can now go to the C-suite with a document that will back up the validity of their discipline in business in general. After many years the results of the Excellence Study have paid off handsomely in practice, with the shared expectations between senior management and the communication function now being enshrined in the King Report III in a chapter on Stakeholder Relationship Management.

  5. Emanuele Invernizzi, chair elect of Euprera, chair of the permanent Education Roundtable of FERPI, director of the Institute of Economics of IULM University, and co-organizer of the Euprera October Congress sent me the following stimulating comment:
    quote

    In my opinion, there is a strong connection between the Authentic Enterprise concept presented in the Page report, and the Institutionalization process of the pr/communication function within organizations.

    I don’t wish here to add to the concept of Authenticity, very well analyzed also from an etymologic point of view; nor to the Authentic Enterprise one, well summarized by Benita out of the Page report. I want only to say that they are both a step forward in the same direction to the overall conceptualization of Reputation, and that Authenticity and Reputation represent both a much more relevant goal for organizations than what was once the Image one.

    Interestingly, in order to maintain and strengthen authenticity and/or reputation, pr/communication activities need to actively contribute to all organizational processes, beginning from the strategic decisions of the Board of Directors. That’s why, as the Page paper implies, CEOs are looking for their Chief Communication Officers to take a more strategic and interactive role within the senior leadership of the company by helping to drive the major changes the organization is facing.

    Back to the institutionalization concept, it can be defined, in general, as a long-term process of infusing “rule-like” values and procedures into organizations, industries, or societies so that they endure, regardless of particular situations or individual philosophies of main actors (Zucker L.G., 1977).

    More specifically, institutionalization of pr/communication describes its growing relevance within organizations and its influence on their strategic decision processes. The entry of the director of pr/communication in the Board of an increasing number of organizations can be a tangible indicator of the process.

    The literature on institutionalization rationalizes pr/communication as either a buffering activity – used by organizations to protect themselves from change by stakeholder management; or a bridging activity – used by organizations to evolve through an active engagement of stakeholders in various and relevant processes, from the definition of company values to the design and development of products and services.

    This of course, is the “glass half full ” view that, in my opinion, is still worth to be thouroughly used for further research. While the “glass half empty” one (which Toni suggests as the most fruitful for us to carefully analyse) underlines the risks of crystallization of the function or, even worse, of hyperadaptation of the pr/communication manager once he/she enters the dominant coalition.
    (See on this issue the video interviews of Frank Ovaitt, Anne Gregory, Sue Wolstenholme, Toni Muzi Falconi, James Grunig, Ansgar Zerfass, Betteke Van Ruler, Larissa Grunig and Francesco Lurati in the http://www.Euprera2008.com website and other video interviews soon to be published before the Milano Euprera Congress on Institutionalizing PR and Corporate communication, October 16th-18th).
    unquote

  6. Estelle, I cannot tell you how excited I am about the developments on Stakeholders in the King Report III on Corporate Governance in South Africa. Your constant efforts in changing world-views to two-way symmetrical communication and stakeholder engagement/interaction rather than stakeholder reporting have sure paid off. As a South African academic, but even more so, as a PR practitioner for 16 years, I realize what a giant step forward and what a window of opportunity this is for public relations in our country. That is, for those practitioners who see PR as a bridging rather than a buffering function!

    Prof Invernizzi, thank you for enlightening this South African barbarian from the management sciences with your explanations. I realise that not having studied sociology and organisational/institutional theory is a big crack in my armour. (But then, looking on the positive side, knowledge of management has not really hurt me!!). So we live and we learn.

  7. Highly recommended reading–Driving public relations: Chrysler moves PR under the HR umbrella, spurs debate about where PR reports.

    A huge thank-you to John Elsasser, editor of PRSA’s quarterly publication, The Strategist, for responding to my Friday query about whether this fascinating/scary cover article in the Summer 2008 issue would (or could) be placed online and accessible to a larger, international audience (such as found here at PR Conversations).

    Note that the article’s author, Chris Cobb, “is a senior writer at the Ottawa Citizen newspaper in Canada’s capital where he specializes in reporting on media and government communication,” so perhaps this article also qualifies for the “PR resources, about or by, Canada and Canadians” post.

  8. Judy – when a private equity firm took over the Automobile Association here in the UK, there were concerns about its investment in PR. Various owners (public companies) had gradually reduced investment in PR over recent years – but perhaps surprisingly, the AA went for a big hitter, recruiting Edmund King formerly of RAC Foundation (and known as the “voice of the motorist”) as its president. This means PR not only reports to the highest level, but in many respects, is the highest level.

  9. In another post, Institutionalisation of the PR ‘Educationist’ role , we are currently discussing the importance of employee communication and PR’s education role. We all seem to agree that employee communication has become a core PR function. On the surface, it might therefore seem that Chrysler’s move to place PR under HR is a brilliant one. In my opinion, nothing could be further from the truth. This opinion is shared by many in the PRSA article that Judy provided, with which I wholeheartedly agree. For instance, this move is the “relegation of public relations into a relatively slow, inward-looking environment” or “The external environment is such that you need a sharp PR department ready to deal quickly with many issues. HR is not the place to do that. The two cultures are very different’”

    Furthermore, “You have to have the guts to tell the CEO when he’s naked and to be able to say it without fear of retribution” (which opportunity the PR person will not have when reporting to an HR executive). It is also unlikely that the HR exec will do this either, if only for the reason that he/she doesn’t have the deep insider knowledge of PR/communication as to why something should or shouldn’t happen). In looking at Prof Puth’s description of the knowledge/skills necessary for bringing about behavioural change through communication , it is obvious that special skills/knowledge is required. It is unlikely that the HR exec will have this. Admittedly, the PR exec might not have it either. Not because they are too dumb to function on the strategic level, but because they have not been trained to make line communication (for instance) a core competency of the organisation (according to the criteria spelled out by Prof Craig Fleisher). This is an oversight in most PR curriculum development, something that hopefully will be addressed by the current GA initiative Jean Valin has been talking about in Judy’s Canada post.

    The reason given by Chrysler for moving PR to HR is that it is “part of the culture transformation” and that they were “going to rely on human resources and communications as two strategic organizations to drive this culture transformation.” But why should it be necessary to have one function report to the other to achieve such a goal? Will the PR function be moved around every time there is a new strategic goal? Should Chrysler decide next year that a ‘service driven’ culture needs to be instilled amongst the employees, are they now going to move PR to marketing?

    In the words of one of the critics in the article: “Show me an organization that has PR reporting into HR and I’ll show you an organization where the CEO has not seen the value in what PR can deliver.”

  10. As I read Chris Cobb’s article in the Strategist, I do not think it is a question of PR reporting to HR.

    It is a question of PR reporting to a (powerful?) senior executive – an executive who happens to also oversee HR – and thus not having it’s own (powerful) senior executive. This arrangement happens all the time in organizations, both for shared service or staff functions and for line functions. In a leader’s attempt to reward and/or retain a talented and/or loyal executive, the organization enlarges the scope of the assignment. It would seem that this is more a move based on ‘people’ rather than a move based on ‘structure’ or even ‘strategy.’

    History does show that as the pendulum of organizational change swings, sooner than later it will swing back. It would have been more troubling if internal comms moved to HR, away from PR.

  11. I fully agree with Fraser.

    Europe’s number two insurance company, Assicurazioni Generali, recently went through a similar transition.
    While to the contrary, at Telecom Italia, following a couple of years of negative years of integration, the internal communication function went back to hr…and this is a shame, mostly due to the disinterest of the communicators from the preceding management team, much more interested in hitting the first page of the dailies (albeit negatively…) than in boosting a desperate employee motivation….

    In both the Chrysler and the Generali cases (the second of course I know better) it is, I suspect, a people issue.

    I personally could not give a toot if the person who heads of the pr/hr function comes from either professional background.
    I am not in favour of protecting any single professional or a colleague only because such, but the function…

    By the way, this reminds me very much of those professional associations who lobby or, in any case, would not object to the regulation of the profession (as long as someone else begins the process…), in the inane objective of safeguarding their members from what they believe is unfair competition.
    This apporach to regulation is utterly ridiculous, preposterous, and damages our reputation as a professional community.

    If one is in favour of regulation (as I am, altough I am well aware of being a minority) it is in the effort to protect the publics from our actions, rather than to protect ourselves from the bastards who would flock our profession anyhow, with or without regulation….

    Please… let us not turn the istitutionalization of the function issue into a navel gazing exercise of how wonderful our colleagues who made it to the c-suite are….

    Bravo Fraser, I owe you a tour in southern tuscany and southern liguria next time round…

  12. Perhaps PR has become too important for only the PR people to manage. In many cases the traditional PR function has disintegrated into divisions called government relations (public affairs), media relations, investor relations, customer relations (marketing), community relations (CSR or corporate citizenship)etc. It seems as though the trend is now to divide the function even further into the technical (perceived by the business world in South Africa as PR) and strategic(perceived by the business world in SA as strategic communication management)functions.

    In my humble opinion and experience it is the technical PR functions that are moved to other divisions like HR, Marketing, etc. (It is often regarded as something that “anyone can do”, especially now that people can easily develop their own newsletters, websites etc and obviously arrange their own functions – in most cases the secretary is used for these PR tasks, as is currently the case in one of the largest JSE listed companies in South Africa).

    If the abovementioned is a trend, then we need to align the strategic part our function with the strategic management division/team in the organisation. The Excellence Study (and subsequent studies on the same topic) has shown that senior management wants us to play a strategic role. Since the management of stakeholder relationships; communication; and corporate reputation are now regarded as strategic processes and part and parcel of the strategic management process in the organisation, it is only logical that the strategic part of our discipline should be aligned with the strategic function of the organisation – the enterprise AND the corporate strategy. (I know Benita will differ from the latter statement.)

  13. It has been a very time consuming business following this conversation on institutionalization and having read the posts, absorbed the comments, watched the videos and listened to the various opinions, I am now considering producing t-shirts for us all to wear as that seems to be the only useful thing left to do.

    Our t-shirts will read: ‘It’s About Relationships’. I will probably produce them in yellow as we are overdue for springtime here and could do with something brighter to break up the grey skies.

    The posts addressing institutionalization are numerous, and rather than post on each one, I have whipped out the common strands on which I feel compelled to comment.

    On ‘institutionalization’

    This concept presented me with several disagreeable difficulties to begin with and the link to Douglas Harper’s etymological note at the end of my comment will, in part, explain why. I would – as an ordinary practitioner – suggest that the discussions appear to recommend that we institutionalize the practice of public relations – but against old business models! Surely, we should not be seeking to lock our profession into operational paradigms that are on the wane? Should we not instead be looking to see how we will serve our organisations, publics and communities in the operational capacities that will be required in the future, rather than the past?

    From my own varied cultural and geographic perspective, to become ‘institutionalized’ is not a good thing. It has many negative connotations, some of which include a reluctance to change, undemocratic operating principles and the desire to hold fast to historic practices devised for another time and place. There is also a perception of imprisonment. On the other hand, if, as a profession, we seek legitimacy of operation within current and future organisations – and with people at large – then our terms of engagement need to be reconsidered, agreed, confirmed, communicated and understood if we are to be successful. To that end, I hope the discussions in October bear fruit.

    Much of the conversation has centred on the present and the past, rather than looking round the corner at what is coming next. Do we want to see public relations universally recognised as an essential and integral part of organisational operation? Yes, I believe we do. Do we want to demonstrate, universally, the benefit of building and sustaining good relationships that underpin and facilitate an organisation’s licence to operate? Yes, again, I believe we do. Do we believe that in order to achieve this we must be locked – imprisoned if you will – into old school, hierarchical organisational models that rely on a few key influencers (otherwise known as the ‘C-suite’). Personally, I don’t think so, because organisations of the future will have level structures, a variety of influencers at various operational levels rendering the twentieth century ideal of the ‘seat at the top table’ simply redundant.

    If we are to become ‘institutionalized’, then the purpose of public relations must be recognised across the organisations, communities and people we work with, rather than crystalised as power brokered among a few.

    On authenticity

    Which brings me to authenticity. In Toni’s interview, I agreed entirely with Clemente when he observed :

    “Let me go back to the old fashioned “far bene e fallo sapere” (do well and tell others about it): it is much closer to the authenticity concept than the more recent reputation or perception management fads, at least it puts an accent on behaviours.”

    The notion of actions speaking louder than words is as old as the hills. For many years now, old style organisations have, to a great extent, got away with saying one thing and doing another. How delightful that it will once more be fashionable to be judged on what is done, rather than what is said. But in order to make sure that what’s done is done well, the ‘internal’ publics, addressed in one of Benita’s posts, must have greater value than they have had in the past. In the discussion on internal communications, nowhere would principles aligned with, say, Ubuntu be more appropriate – I am because we all are. To consider ‘hiving off’ internal communications anywhere is quite simply barmy. Of course it is – and always has been – part of the public relations purpose. The people who make up an organisation are the ‘first’ public – the eldest child if you will – and therefore require at the very least the same attention and interaction as the many other publics that exist. Just because for years many organisations have ‘got away’ with not doing this doesn’t diminish the fact that the internal community falls within the relationship building function. And, if open, trustworthy and transparent relationships are not built first within the internal community, how can an organisation claim to be authentic? I would venture to suggest that other practitioners will – based on our collective experience over years – support this view.

    On name-calling

    I am not a just a strategic communicator. That is part of my role as a public relations practitioner, as are many other things. Strategic communication management, reputation management, stakeholder relationship advisor – there are dozens of new titles out there, most of which only describe a portion of my job. That’s fine if it is the only bit of the job I want to do, but then I have never wished to simply be a technician.

    I understand why these titles exist. Because public relations allowed itself in some quarters to gain a bad reputation and people wanted their work, service – and in some cases basic human dignity – acknowledged and recognised, rather than slandered and denigrated. In order to achieve this, they changed or invented a new title based on a part of the work we undertake, rather than the whole job. I have always held the view that there are bad apples in every barrel and one or two bad ones shouldn’t put me – or anyone else – off this wholesome and healthy food. It has been said in this conversation-of-many-posts that CEOs and their associates increasingly recognise strategic communication management rather than public relations. I would contend that this is because that is what they are being told to recognise. So a word of warning. If this ‘title change’ persists, we will end up with a whole host of unrecognisable, misunderstood jobs. Then others will step up (as they are beginning to do already) and claim to undertake sustained relationship building and employ the services of a ‘strategic communication manager’ to help them do this. These ‘others’ will advise on strategic relationships and the manager will become the communication technician. Oops. Communication is part of, not all, that we do. I fear academia may be inadvertently ‘hiving us off’. The CEOs I have dealt with over many years are able and intelligent people who understand the role and worth of public relations. They are also quite capable of discerning good apples from bad and not throwing out babies with the bathwater (to mix up a few metaphors).

    They understand too, that it is their relationships I am initiating and helping to sustain, so when it it is time to speak, they are the voice of the organisation – not me. A basic lesson in the ordinary practitioner’s handbook has always been to enable the right people to consistently front up to and engage with their publics. Don’t let them hide behind you. Often – to use the PR educationalist reference – that means we are coaches in courage, teachers of responsibility and advocates for change all with a view to building the authentic enterprise.

    I believe it is high time we undertook some coaching in courage for ourselves. In a bid to ‘institutionalize’ public relations – that is to design and establish a summary of principles for ourselves that remain valid in the future – we have to be courageous enough to look at the past, (the ‘bastards’ that Toni referred to perhaps) and make sure bad practice is eliminated for the public good. Then explain, without recourse to apology or new titles, the purpose of public relations and its benefit for those we seek to serve – then just get on with the job.

    I fully accept that my fellow conversationalists will agree with little, or nothing, above but Toni did ask for views and sometimes – as in another of Benita’s posts – academic thought and practical reality are far apart, mainly because as practitioners we spend a great deal of time doing while our cherished academics spend a great deal of time thinking. The gulf widens when practitioners forget to think and academics forget to do. I’ll be very interested to hear the outcome of the discussions in October – there should be some fascinating talking going on. Yet on the back of the ‘authentic enterprise’, will actions result – or just more words? Will we think and then do? Or, in the style of Frank Sinatra, will we simply end up chorusing ‘b’do be do be do’… a pleasant tune, but no memorable result?

    http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=institutionalize&searchmode=none

  14. Cathy,

    this is a very thoughtful (as usual….coming from you!) contribution to our discussion.
    I am sure (I for certain) many of us will agree that you have ‘one-handedly’ set a con-vincing and attractive layout for a table ( a ‘space’?) around which we may, with litlle discomfort, sit to outline a generally (I hope) acceptable and, even more, stimulating conceptual framework of intelligent building blocks for scholars, educators, professionals and students.

    As for institutionalization:
    I very much agree that only by looking into the future (without of course avoiding the always essential historization of the phenomenon) may we deter the risk of self complacency, rigidiidity and cristallization which often accompany conceptualizations of what has and is happening.
    This will allow us to better understand the apparent contradiction by which movements tend to collapse as they institutionalize.
    In our case… the function becoming finally recognised by organizations in the midts of its trend to disintermediation….

    Specifically on employee relationships:
    you forget to note that in many countries and organizations the ‘first public’ have traditionally been shareholders rather than employees. This also could be because, at least in the european tradition, trade unions (rather than employee groups) have been the traditional interlocutors of private and public sector organizations.

    Finally (but of course all the points you make are well taken..):
    I do not believe we should worry too much about doing away with ‘the bastards’, as they will also exist and flourish no matter how tightly we attempt, either by self or hetero regulation, to close access (an exercise I am particularly hostile to).

    What is instead of paramount relevance for our future is that, as you say, we get on with it… and capitalise now on the benefits of istitutionalization, by finding reasonable and implementable processes to deter its negatives and, most importantly, responsibily reinventing and re-intermediating our profession for the reciprocal and interrelated benefit of society, the organization and our profession.
    Thank you Cathy.

  15. Cheers to all,

    I had started to digest this conversation and the related one about the Institutionalization of the PR ‘Educationist’ role and begun to prepare a comment, but after Cathy’s intervention (inspiring and thought provoking) I felt obliged to write to praise her effort and try to add two ideas related with internal communicators or employee communication specialists or whatever we want to call those of us who work mainly or exclusively in this area.

    I second Fraser’s view adding that often it seems to matters more how well professionals can handle their work and how they can help their executives gain visibility and influence. So it’s possible that adjustments involving the placement of PR function in the organization are also attempts to bring closer or to keep away specific actors. Brazilian scholar Roberto Porto Simões saw PR as the way to manage the political function of organizations, dealing with information to minimize conflicts. In the internal stakeholders relations (I prefer this to internal communication which emphasises de “communicative” – and technical – part of our function, and because it can help sell Cathy’s T-shirts), a major task is indeed to navigate the whole political system of the organizations and manage different sensibilities – unfortunately this is not taught at schools and is perhaps one of the reasons many organizations find young students not prepared to enter their world. How we understand and manage the political side of PR is certainly one very important question for the debate on institutionalization.

    Cathy suggests also the importance of looking to the future and wonders about the influencers of the future. Indeed, there is still a myth that stakeholder mapping concerns mostly external stakeholders (thus implying that internal stakeholders are by definition clear and straightforward), but more and more, companies are to be understood like other social environments. People have their links within the functional rationale of the organizational structure, but many other bonds too. Families, competitors, potential and former employees, communities, shareholders have become very fluid concepts. In addition, traditional “employees” are being more and more understood as networks (some with formal existence) within the organization. The so called “change agents” popular in internal change management processes, groups of high potential, subsets of employees from business units, geographical communities, etc. I would add this to the list of issues to tackle when speaking about institutionalization of PR related with its internal dimension.

  16. I whole-heartedly support Catherine’s comments. To borrow a concept from physics: the PR function is a bit like Dark Energy. No one knows how to define it, no one can really describe it, and no one has ever been able to pin it down. But without it, the universe would fly apart. I often describe my job to people as “connecting the dots” between the organization’s various functions and our stakeholders.

  17. Cathy: On ‘institutionalization’. I think you are referring to the Anglo Saxon meaning of the concept and its somewhat negative connotations. I know what you mean, since even in my language(Afrikaans)‘institusionaliseer’ most often means that you are ‘locking up’ a person who has lost their marbles and needs to be watched so that they don’t get away and harm others!!

    However, I think that ‘institutionalisation’ as the focus of the Euprera Conference (and of this post) focuses on the sociological meaning. I understand that to mean that certain ways of doing things are gradually being established, acknowledged and generalised, i.e. getting to the point of reflecting a common understanding of reality, standard perceptions, taken-for-granted behaviour — the natural way of action. Simplistically put, it becomes a habit and you don’t think about it or question it any longer.

    Those are actually the characteristics of a paradigm, when everybody thinks the same and does not question assumptions. But our very conversations here indicate that we are not thinking exactly the same, that we operate from different world-views/paradigms, and we are now actually having paradigm debates (which is common before the paradigm shifts). If I may use us as an example, Cathy, I think you are much ‘established’ in (even ‘locked’ in) a ‘relationship’ paradigm (the yellow T-shirt!) while I am ‘locked’ in a strategic view for PR (probably wearing a red T-shirt, since that is what many would see when I mention PR and strategic in the same breath!!).

    Earlier in this post, Prof Invernizzi indicated that institutionalisation of PR/communication describes its growing relevance within organizations and its influence on their strategic decision processes. He gave as example the entry of the director of PR/communication in the Board of an increasing number of organizations as a tangible indicator of the process. I think Estelle and I took up the discussion from this point, since it of course agrees with our worldview (the latter obtained in practice, and not in academia! By the way, Cathy, not all academics have been in academia all their lives. For instance, Estelle and I have 33 years in practice between us).

    Prof Invernizzi also said that ‘in order to maintain and strengthen authenticity and/or reputation, PR/ communication activities need to actively contribute to all organizational processes, beginning from the strategic decisions of the Board of Directors’. It is certainly my view that PR is NOT contributing to ALL organisational processes, but only to some. I am not saying that is all that one should be doing. As a matter of fact, a practitioner doesn’t need to do it at all. All I am saying is that, in my view, that is something that SOME PR practitioners somewhere SHOULD be doing in order to assist in organisational goal achievement.

    Since the technical role of PR is already institutionalised (generally accepted and understood by all) it doesn’t present a great challenge to me as a researcher. But there isn’t a general understanding of the strategic role yet and therefore it is more interesting. However, I don’t think that the strategic role is part of an old paradigm. It has not yet been a paradigm/entrenched? (Anyway, I don’t see a difference in PR’s strategic role in a hierarchical or matrix organisation–I have worked in both and played the role in both–but think it was ‘easier’ in the matrix organisation).

    If all of this makes me a ‘panglossian’, Toni—so be it. (What exactly do you mean with this word anyway—is it ‘eternal optimist’?). But that can be part of another discussion.

    Cathy: You did raise a number of interesting points to discuss and I would like to come back to some later.

    Estelle, I think PR has become too important for only the PR ‘manager’ to manage. (It needs a PR ‘strategist’ to lead it into new paradigms). In my experience in South Africa, especially in many smaller organisations, the PR ‘manager’ doesn’t have enough managerial training, but is an experienced technician who gets promoted to heading the function.This PR ‘manager’ then assumes the generic duties of managing, controlling, organising, doing performance appraisals and signing leave forms, etc. but is not really leading the function to new heights and more often than not, does not become involved in strategic decision making processes.

    The reasons for this might have been pinpointed by Retha Groenewald’s research amongst 400 PR managers in SA, as to which skills they considered the most important in their managerial positions. Although these managers said that they were well equipped with technical PR skills, they did not consider these important in their managerial positions. They said what they lacked/needed they didn’t have—specifically strategic communication skills, business skills and leadership communication skills.

    If they had these skills and played the role of the PR ‘strategist’, one could speculate that the leadership vacuum might not have arisen. But what we saw was that, as certain stakeholders became more important in specific organisations or industries, managers from other areas or from outside were appointed to handle such stakeholders and it soon developed into another functional area (i.e. government = public affairs; shareholders = investor relations, etc).

    But, to bastardise a well known phrase, may the best manager lead!! However, in the end I am not convinced that it is in the organisation’s best interest to splinter the stakeholders into separate functions. If it were, why then in many large organisations with enough money to attract top communication executives, are these functions often pulled together again under a communication executive—who has a senior position and the relevant knowledge to operate at that level? Any other views on this?

    Estelle, I do agree that the ‘strategic part of our discipline should be aligned with the strategic function of the organisation’. As a matter of fact, I think it should do more than just being ‘aligned’ with it. If PR wants to be a strategic function, it has to make a unique contribution to strategic decision making. I agree with Knight’s postmodern view of strategic management as “a subjective process in which the participants from different management disciplines…..assert their disciplinary identities”.

    And Cathy, it is here that I have the problem with the yellow T-shirts and relationships as PR’s ultimate purpose, since I don’t consider it to be ‘a unique disciplinary identity’ (HR and marketing, to name a few, are also doing it). Even less so when the different sub-functions are splintering off and all are building relationships with different groups of stakeholders. (But my problem arises only when one has a strategic worldview for PR. If the latter is not so important, then relationships can be the ‘end all and be all’ for PR practitioners).

    Estelle, there is so much to discuss here that I would rather not get into the enterprise/corporate strategy debate now. Maybe we can do that at a later stage.

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