Why Public Relations should celebrate the G20 meeting

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As PR professionals we should celebrate the G20 meeting this week in London as an opportunity to demonstrate what public relations is all about. 

Essentially, this “informal forum” seeks to promote “open and constructive discussion between industrial and emerging-market countries on key issues related to global economic stability”.   This would seem to reflect an approach to building relationships and two-way symmetric communications.

At the core of G20, we have 20 global leaders holding one-to-one meetings, which clearly reflects the personal influence model of public relations (see Kristin M Johnson‘s excellent paper via the Institute for Public Relations).

The summit also provides an opportunity for the more traditional publicity approach to PR as global leaders seek to convey carefully crafted images via the world’s media. 

On the streets, dozens of groups and thousands of individuals will protest and seek to have their voices heard.  This supports the argument that the true potential of PR requires openness and democratic principles as Vercic espouses, and also demonstrates activism in action.  Indeed, we can apply Grunig’s situational theory in the way that people are motivated to become aware and active publics.

I find it interesting to reflect on these matters after reading Dave Fleet’s post: “Public relations is not a right“.  It is somewhat ironic that in countries where there is little freedom of expression, such as Zimbabwe, the only voices being publicly heard are those who could be deemed as unworthy of a “right” to PR representation.

For me, the simple fact that organisations, groups and individuals are able to express different viewpoints (some of which might be considered by some people as unethical) is what enables PR to exist.

One person’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist and the same can be considered true in PR.  Your persuasive message might be considered as propaganda by others.

Of course, those with power will find it easiest to be heard – the  professional public relations expertise and might of the global leaders guarantees them headlines and access to other influential channels, such as the personal meetings.

But because the UK is a democratic, pluralistic society, it is also possible for those with less “right” to communicate their message.  They will also use the techniques of PR to be heard although but few are using professional PR representation to do this.  

To an extent, the protestors are restricted to a press agentry model of PR, although alliances and co-orientation will be evident in the planning and outcomes of today’s actions. 

Modern society is based on the idea that multiple competing opinions are able to affect public policy and public behaviour through discussion, negotiation and compromise.

That is why it is important that public relations can stimulate discussion around issues but also, why we need to allow the opinions of others to be heard, even if we don’t like what they are saying.

I believe that as professional PR practitioners we should support what Voltaire is attributed as saying: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

I doubt the legacy of the G20 summit will be any more momentous than enabling a cacophony of opinions to be expressed and a range of voices to be heard – which perhaps sums up what PR is all about.

8 COMMENTS

  1. I see a core group of handpicked bloggers will also be able to report from the G20 summit tomorrow: http://www.whitebandaction.org/g20voice.

    Following Twitter or Sky for current news of demonstrators all focuses on increasing tension and vandalism of the RBS (bank) branch, which strangely was not boarded up – was there no attempt at crisis management?

    The irony of destroying a bank which is is now majority owned by the people seems lost on the protestors. Mind you, given the number of cameras evident in the crowd or mob (certainly not reasoned publics), it is unclear how many are protestors and how many are media – or “citizen journalists”.

  2. Thank you Judy for remembering this post. As you imply today the bill passed in Congress and now faces the Senate.
    I just hope, having lived with the tobacco lobby for many years, that the real reason behind Philip Morris’s sponsorship of the bill despite the strong opposition of its competitors, is not the fact that, as the papers say, the consequence would imply a freezing of the market and therefore a favour to the dominating brands (which are of Philip Morris…), but the fact that the FDA is so understaffed and under resourced that it will never be able to exercise the power that the new bill allows….
    If this happened in Italy, I would have no doubt that this was the real reason.
    But, maybe, in the States it is another story…
    But only maybe….

  3. The G20 was a short-term PR success and a missed opportunity. Everyone knows Mr Brown always exaggerates the good he is doing. Everyone knows Mr Obama is long on rhetoric. I get the feeling that the peoples of the UK and the US are prepared to see their leaders a little more realistically than might be supposed, as I argue here in “G20: if only they’d treated us like adults”:

    http://paulseaman.eu/2009/04/london-g20-if-only-theyd-treated-us-like-grownups/

  4. Paul,

    You are right that we saw plenty of the rhetorical approach to PR from Brown and Obama both in G20 and the NATO “celebrations” last week. I think it is inevitable that such mega-events will be lost PR opportunities – especially for the discursive model of communications.

    In respect of Ian Tomlinson and the lessons for crisis management, I have written often about the failings in the traditional CM model – and indeed one of my dissertation students has been researching the impact of the Tylenol model which seems to have been presented in texts as the ideal approach.

    One of the issues today is that organisations are expected to speak up immediately, even when information is unknown – which is fine, but media expect answers not holding statements. I recall how stupid the PR looked after the Bunston explosion a few years ago, in confirming an incident had occurred – some three hours after images had been first broadcast.

    Also, in an era when “truth” emerges from various sources – and in the case of G20 there were thousands of people with video/cameras via mobile phones to capture any incident (inc the police themselves), it is futile for PR to try to cover up or bluff.

    It shows the necessity for PR professionals to have real trust and access not to be a peripheral function that is brought in after the proverbial has hit the fan.

  5. Public Relations: Management function which evaluates public attitudes, identifies the policies and procedures of an individual or an organization with the public interest, and plans, executes, and evaluates a program of action to earn public understanding and acceptance.

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