“I have nothing against regulation that verifies and controls, in the public interest, the consequences of our actions, because we need to be fully responsible for what we do. As journalists need to be free to write what they wish, we also need to be free to act as we wish. But over certain limits both of us should be subject to legislated criteria to determine the damages we provoke through our actions.”
This is not a quote from Edward Bernays back in the 1960s, but an excerpt from an interview I conducted with Harold Burson in Milano at the end of September, which was recently published in the Italian monthly Prima Comunicazione.
And I am not breaching any confidentiality if I say state that, although not yet in the public domain, many other of the more-relevant leaders of our public relations profession have come this side of the argument in favour of regulation.
Mind you, this is not a sentiment to protect ourselves from intruders—as many would like it to be framed—but rather to protect the public interest from the growing damages much of our “public relations” activities produce on individual as well as organizational social capital.
As in one week in Melbourne the Global Alliance’s 7th World Public Relations Forum (WPRF) begins, although the issue of regulation is not on the official agenda, it will certainly be a substantial part of the conversation. It would be no surprise to me if it was from Australia—and there are many reasons why it would be a good thing if it came from Down Under—a loud and clear call to our global community to advocate for, and ensure, that our professional actions worldwide be monitored and assessed in protection of the public interest.
The need for regulation of our profession issue is very similar to the pressures for effective evaluation and measurement.
That is, except for the fact that while the growing pressures from our clients and employers oblige us to do something about it lest we risk losing our incomes, the civil society pressures for regulation can be more easily diverted by arguing that specific pressures—say, for example, health, consumer, lobbying, environment, financial—constrains our activities already in place. But constraints vary from country to country and keep changing. In most cases this is without our professional associations even being aware, let alone representing our interests in the decision-making process.
So why should we need to be regulated as a profession?
I don’t buy this (formal-and-informal-constraints-already-in-place) argument, as in my opinion our profession (and our professional associations…if their raison d’être makes any sense at all) should be the loudest advocate in favour of regulation.
This is because I very much believe our major effort as an aware and responsible community should be to support the process of determination and orientation of our own future, rather than—as we have so far done passively—follow the direction decided by chance or by other parties, however respectable and relevant.
When in the 2010, 2011 and 2012 years we decided to develop, discuss and engage the best minds and forces in the PR profession worldwide to determine and implement the Stockholm Accords, this is exactly what we had in mind.
On the same opening day of the WPRF (Monday, 19 November), following the presentation of the Melbourne Mandate—a needed and interesting extension of the Accords—I will be introducing and facilitating a session titled “By Jove in works!“ where five of our best colleagues from as many continents will present actual results achieved so far from implementing the Stockholm Accords in areas such as:
- perception in the tourism industry
- public diplomacy
- integrated reporting; and
So I would suggest that before we add the Melbourne Mandate to the Stockholm Accords, it might be worthwhile to see some of the more exciting outcome results from the latter. After all, such proof points help us to successfully co-determine our own future, which might include formal regulation on a global basis.
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A complementary article by Toni Muzi Falconi can be found on the dedicated World PR Forum website, By Jove, it works!
Also see: Refreshing the PR advocacy platform through the Melbourne Mandate 2012 and Communication without borders…or marketplace competition, about the upcoming World PR Forum (on PR Conversations).