While there were few remaining doubts in Milano for me that the institutionalization process of the public relations function is ‘a fact of organizational life’, especially after the presentation of the three research reports in the final plenary session, and the rooted impression that in other parts of the world besides Italy, Europe and the United States the process is even more pronounced, even if no figures were presented at the Euprera Congress…the substantial impression remained strong that, in both the scholarly and professional community, there remains a widespread lack of awareness and acknowledgement of this very ‘fact of organizational life’.
This impression is also confirmed by many of the opinions and comments which have been coming into this blog since Jim Grunig first decided to correct what he believed to be a misrepresentation of some of his views, and subsequently accepted to respond to a number of questions raised by many of PR Conversation’s regular bloggers, also stimulating follow-up posts (this one included).
By the way, it seemed clear to me that Jim, influenced by the many contributions which have arrived in these years by tens of excellent thinkers and researchers from all continents, has accelerated his thought dynamics to the point of a topical level of inclusiveness, well beyond his earlier achievements.
Basically, it seems to me that many of us fail to observe what is in reality happening out there in the market place; or even unconsciously omit to register the many signs which confirm the increasing pervasiveness and alarm for our role in society, as well as the fact that while organizations increase their efforts to improve their relationships with their respective influential publics, we (educators and professionals alike) do not make a sufficient effort to accompany this institutionalization process by identifying, specifying and conceptualizing the principal competencies which are required, for us to play a legitimate role in any organizational decisional process.
For example, it is evident that competencies related to processes -such as ‘messaging’ or ‘publicity’ or ‘organization of events’ and even ‘lobbying’- as much as they are necessary to perform effective communication- do not legitimate us to participate to the organizational decision making process.
Similarly, as much as it is necessary that we need to know, understand and speak managerial language in order to be heard by others in the organization (with the implication of the need to strengthen our knowledge of strategy, finance, project management, purchasing, marketing and what have you..) this is clearly not sufficient to participate at the organizational decision making process.
To the contrary, a participation based on:
a) an acknowledged competency in listening to, understanding and interpreting the expectations of relevant stakeholder groups as well as the dynamics of societal issues affecting the options that management needs to select from, before implementing any decision;
b) on the proven ability to enhance, facilitate, stimulate, develop coherent policies, methods, tools and channels in support of other organizational functions when they manage the processes with which each function relates and communicates with its respective stakeholder publics.
These are two specific areas which justify a full participation to the organization’s decision making processes.
If we take the first one (reflective or reflexive?) the professional needs to know, be aware of and able to take a critical look at every well researched and conceptualised aspect of:
° the boundary or environmental spanning process conceptualised in the sixties;
° the issues management process emerged in the second part of the seventies;
and , more recently,
° stakeholder identification; desk, semiotic and network analysis; opinion and behavioural research; participant observation….
° up to the more recent neuroscience and cultural biology stimulations (thank you, David Phillips!) to be able to better understand and interpret specific and constantly changing publics and individuals.
If we take the second one (consultative or educative?) the professional needs specific skills in relating to her/his peers in the organization such as empathy; interest, curiosity and understanding of others’ interests; leadership; group work; coalition building; horizontal network analysis; stimulation of learning without teaching; the infinite forms and ways of inclusive and stakeholder engagement management processes.
These two areas of competencies, well embedded with all the other traditional public relations competencies, lead the public relations function directly to that of ‘manager of stakeholder relationship systems’ which is today even more a corporate governance rather than simply a management function.
Now, let me ask you, how many under and post graduate, corporate university, professional associations, ongoing professional training programs that we know of even superficially touch on those competencies?
This is why there is such a gap (evident in Milano) between what is happening to our function in the market place and what we are actually competent in doing.
This is why, if my friend Richard Bailey allows me to borrow his interpretation, it is likely that soon many of us will be really ‘institutionalised’ and made useless in straightjackets to society as well as to organizations, while more basic and traditional practices such as media relations, advocacy, event organization will continue to be disintermediated from public relations professionals.