The recent Euprera congress in Milan advocated insitutionalization of PR as a strategic leadership function, where organisations value communications as a strength in the same way that they respect other expertise among the executive.
The impression was that PR practitioners are "lions" being led by "donkeys" who fail to recognise our courage and competence as they task us instead in fighting futile tactical battles. (My analogy being the views towards the British generals of World War One and their heroic infantrymen.) But are we really capable of being lions? And why were there no donkeys joining the conversation?
The presentations advocated the value of PR playing a boundary spanning role – that is, in a bridging fashion of helping organisations to adapt and build relationships rather than as a buffer to protect or insulate.
Similarly, the call was for PR to challenge its current institutionalization as a technical function, and move beyond seeking recognition as a management function, to ensure that when it achieves a seat at the top table, it does so in a strategic, contributing role.
This strategic PR would be an adaptive entity, based on ensuring values and culture are institutionalized rather than techniques or processes, as that would lead to a more rigid, inflexible capability.
However, one of the barriers that prevents PR taking up this position as a lion leading the charge was noted as a tendency for CEOs to seek strategic counsel from others, not their senior PR advisors.
It also seemed that when PR folk do get this level of recognition, it is a result of their personal influence. So, if (when) they leave an organisation, the march to the top often has to start all over again.
Sadly there were no leaders (donkeys) present to engage with the call for PR’s strategic insitutionalization; although most of the attendees (largely, but not exclusively PR academics and students) supported the notion of PR in a leadership role.
What I found of particular interest was some of the research presented during the congress. Professor Anne Gregory, for example, also noted that CEOs value the input of advisors who don’t solely have a functional perspective of the organisation.
Her work looking at competencies of senior PR practitioners had fascinatingly identified a typical "species". The characteristics of this "animal" had much in common with CEOs themselves, but perhaps without the desire to hold the top job. Does this explain why so few CEOs are former CCOs? Do we need PR lions to become pride leaders as a measure of institutionalised success?
It seemed that for PR to secure even the recognition as a valued consultant and advisor, more focus is required on demonstrating attributes of leadership – in the wider arena of corporate affairs rather than just corporate communications.
The question raised that I am left pondering is whether PR practitioners are sufficiently interested in business outcomes to warrant a position as lion leader in the pride, rather than carrying the burden as a donkey.