I submit that the paradigm of generic principles and specific applications and the practice of stakeholder relationship management constitute an effective integrated framework of reference for our professional community, capable of allowing our practice to fully benefit (or at the very least, suffer less) from this economic crisis, which will be with us for some years to come.
Allow me to dwell on this statement, and explain the why and the how.
First of all, what sort of crisis are we facing?
My idea is that:
° this crisis is global;
° this crisis is here to stay for three to four years;
° this crisis implies a radical disruption of existing economic, societal and political systems:
the three social spheres within which we traditionally practice our profession in developing, facilitating, enhancing relationship systems on behalf of our clients/employers.
If not for other reasons, this one seems to me a more than sufficient one for a radical review of our practices.
I am convinced that, being public relators, we would be making a serious professional mistake if we did not make the effort to understand more clearly where this crisis comes from.
And this because, one of our major roles (see paper published in 2007 in Sao Paolo University journal) is also to help clients and employers better interpret their environments and improve the quality of their decisions and…. turn crisis into opportunities (as they say..).
And we are mandated to understand what is happening with more thought than most others.
May I suggest that this crisis is only one of the many consequences (positive and negative) of the historic global discontinuity caused by the disruption of the concepts of time and space induced by the diffusion of ITC technologies in the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries?
In every situation of discontinuity that we may trace in history (the discovery of America, for example) there are always, and for many decades, conflicts between the new which advances and the old which resists.
In our case, the Nation State and its clearly awkward and clumsy regulatory processes, which have become so evident in these recent years, is part of the old which resists.
Take the financial crisis, the very sector which more than any other benefitted from the globalization made possible by the ICT technologies.
Take the recent biblical and planetary migration tsunami, which has disseminated the whole world with diversities.
A tsunami which has severely challenged the ability, and has in fact proven the inability of the Nation State to govern and avoid the sudden global burst of fundamentalism, racism and terrorism, thus creating unheard of levels of social fear, distrust and anger versus institutions, governments, corporations and most other known forms of societal constructs.
In parallel, and exactly for the same reason (so there is no contradiction here), the recent election of Barack Obama is also interpretable as a sounding (may I say?… highly and intensely hoped for) reaction by the people of the world’s most important and powerful Nation State to that historic discontinuity I mentioned.
An election made possible, precisely, by a breakthrough and many innovative applications of those ICT technologies, as well as a terrifically effective sublimation of the very concept of diversity (can’t resist saying that I cannot even find the words to qualify my Premier’s recent comment -joke, he says!- on Obama’s suntan…if not that it was vulgar, gross, racist, shameful…but this is not barely enough…).
Thus, to attempt to turn a crisis into an opportunity we must try to identify those few fundamentals of our profession which, in their more favourable interpretation, allow us to fully integrate the specific consequences, for us public relators, of those ITC technologies, as well as the specific challenges of all diversities to our profession.
As much as this may sound more than optimistic, I would like to submit that, specifically due to the more recent developments of our body of knowledge in these last, say twenty years, we are further ahead today than many others in this quest.
I submit to you that we at least have two certainties:
-the general paradigm of generic principles and specific applications;
-the organizational model of stakeholder relationship management.
I accept of course that you may think that these are everything but certainties… but I would argue back that they are at least as certain as any other certainty…..
Let me try to explain:
-any organization needs to recognize that each territory has peculiar characteristics which influence and condition public relations practices.
These are effectively understandable at least by analysing that territory’s institutional/legal, economic, political, socio-cultural, active citizenship and media systems.
Each of these systems, dynamic by their very nature, and which therefore require constant monitoring, produce relevant consequences on the organization’s activities and therefore mandate specific and diverse communicative approaches;
-in parallel, any organization is well aware that there are generic professional principles which are mandatory in any specific territory and which need to be integrated into the practice of those specific applications, because any organizational behaviour in one location produces immediate consequences in other parts of the planet.
Amongst these generic principles , for example, are the organizational autonomy of the public relations function; its strategic role in listening and interpreting the expectations of specific stakeholder publics to improve the quality of organizational decisions thus accelerating their time of implementation; its option for two way and tendentially symmetric communication; the principle that responsibility is the principal indicator of sustainable management and that public relations has the role of stimulating and facilitating other managerial functions in developing effective, sustainable and responsible relationship systems with their respective stakeholder clusters…
-any organization is well aware of itself as a network of relationship systems and that, in order to reach the aims and objectives it pursues, it must develop relationships with other subjects who bear and/or induce reciprocal consequences from the organization’s activities.
These subjects are stakeholders who decide to be so and who are aware and interested in having a supportive/critical confrontation/dialogue with the organization.
Whether the organization decides to indulge in this confrontation/dialogue or not, produces consequences of those pursued aims and objectives.
Therefore a savvy governance of those relationships needs to be implemented by organizations with full awareness and responsibility and has become one the principal horizontal qualities of any effective manager.
It is also clear that any relationship system is governable mostly by organizational behaviour, and the effective use of communication tools and channels.
From here, the fundamental role today of public relations.
To conclude, and in the hope of having stimulated some attention and lateral thinking, the integration between these two certainties, in my view, constitute the basis for a relatively less complex cohabitation with the more perverse effects of the discontinuity with whom we will be living for yet many years.