From the very beginning, and well before the debate on institutionalization began on this blog, I recall that David Rossi -director of public relations at MPS (Monte dei Paschi di Siena), a leading Italian banking institution- while deciding if his organization would sponsor the Euprera Congress in partnership with his peers Gianluca Comin from Enel, Europe’s second electricity company and Carlo Fornaro from Telecom Italia– said to me:
‘it will be very important for the congress to issue some sort of final statement containing recommended guidelines -based on the consensus of scholars, researchers, educators but also of senior professionals which will have emerged from the discussion-on how organizations should approach the institutionalization process of their public relations management function’.
The following is an early attempt to draft a pre-Congress statement taking in consideration the 20 dedicated posts, the 120 different comments which have so far appeared on this blog, and the contents of the 11 video interviews with international scholars and professionals posted, as of today, on the congress’s website (linkable from the right hand column of this blog).
Of course this text represents my personal opinion, but is deeply indebted, sometimes verbatim, to the many friends and colleagues who have agreed to participate in the discussion and to whom I extend my gratitude.
The process of institutionalizing the public relations function -which is proceeding at an ever more rapid pace in every form of organizations (private, public, social) and in all countries- offers a unique, and possibly unrepeatable, window of opportunity for our more aware, dedicated and concerned global community -composed of professionals, scholars, educators and students alike.
A window also provided by an unprecedented organizational and social focus on the practice of stakeholder relationship management as being increasingly embedded in the global corporate governance debate.
Our professional community needs, now more than ever, to reconsider, understand and communicate its new terms of engagement and this window of opportunity mandates that we undertake a much needed concerted advocacy effort to con-vince (from the Latin vincere cum) organizations -as well as primary stakeholder groups in business, society and the media- that the institutionalization of the public relations function -whose aim is to assist organizations in improving the quality of relationships with their internal and external stakeholder publics- needs to be situationally grounded upon the unique characteristics of each single organization, its culture, values and traditions… but also on a few generic globally valid principles, to ensure that the increasingly demonstrable strategic, managerial and operational values that effective relationships with stakeholder publics provide to organizations, be generally acknowledged, respected and, most importantly, nurtured.
By embedding stakeholder relationship management with the institutionalization of the public relations and communication function, we advocate that the function be empowered, following an inclusive internal bottom-up process, to counsel, assist and support other organizational functions in their respective stakeholder relationship policies and programs.
In practice, this implies that each organization recognize and identify its internal/external stakeholder publics, inherently diverse from those of other organizations, and distribute the responsibility of relationships with them to each relevant management function.
From this premise, it is only a natural consequence that the public relations function -which in most well structured organizations has now become an autonomous managerial function reporting to the CEO or the Chair- be held directly responsible for relationships with a relevant selection of these stakeholder publics (core), while at the same time be assigned to counsel, facilitate and support other management functions in their relationships and communication activities with respective stakeholder publics (extended).
This ensures a coherent and effective approach to stakeholder relationship management by the entire organization.
Similarly, it seems only natural that by assuming that role, the function also be held responsible for developing and implementing –again, in full partnership with those other relevant management functions- an active, intense and continual program of monitoring and listening to the expectations of stakeholder publics on specific issues related to specific organizational objectives.
This, to fully understand, and interpret to fellow managers and before decisions are taken, the expected consequences of those decisions, as well as, once more jointly, evaluate the feasibility of including at least part of those expectations in the decisions.
This undoubtedly accelerates the times of their implementation, a feature which today is often the most relevant indicator of the quality of an organizational decision.
The active participation of public relations to organizational strategic decision making processes is a direct consequence of institutionalization, and becomes effective if and when the concept of responsible management (putting in place what it would take to set the organization on the right path) is embedded as a primary across-the-board value for each leadership function which is, yes!, responsible to the organization, but is also mandated to act responsibly towards all stakeholder publics.
For the public relations and communication function this implies a thorough and detailed review of all existing communicative and relationship practices of the entire organisation (core and extended) to ensure responsible and coherent organizational behaviours.
Finally, to ensure the most effective institutionalization process, a number of caveats need to be considered by involved parties in order to avoid other potential undesired consequences of institutionalization:
° possible management tensions caused by a necessarily independent, unbiased and professionally competent listening to (and interpretation of) internal/external stakeholder expectations, in order to improve the quality of organizational decisions, must in no way interfere, nor delay, nor disrupt the organization’s much needed effort towards creative and innovative processes, products and services.
Responsible management is such not only when deciding to incorporate stakeholder expectations into its decisions, but also when, for various and sustainable reasons, it decides to counter intuitively, albeit being well aware of the consequences, pursue decisions which do not necessarily align with stakeholder expectations;
° conservativism, reluctance to change, sitting tight and doing things as usual, adoption of exclusive and top-down decision making processes, looking back and not forward, buffering, crystallizing the status quo, dis-incentivating independent and out of the box thinking… are all typical knee jerk undesired consequences of institutionalization which need to be carefully watched out for and avoided.
As always happens when a professional activity undergoes an institutionalization process, some of its practices tend to move towards maturity, also inducing a natural, albeit partial, processes of disintermediation.
This, only apparent, paradox tells us that while formulating policies we must definitely focus on looking ahead, anticipating and considering emerging variables; but we must also take a serious look at existing options for a responsible and innovative re-intermediation or, where this appears not advisable or realistic, be ready to abandon certain paradigms and practices which no longer seem effective and, albeit critically, embrace new ones, in order to avoid that institutionalization freeze or prolong the undesirable consequences of some of those practices which, even though once effective, are now, at least in part, being disintermediated.
I do hope that this attempt to rationalize the highly stimulating conversation we have been having in these last few weeks will provoke further suggestions, criticisms and opinions, also to enable all participants to better contribute to the discourse which will be certainly stimulating at the upcoming Euprera Congress.