The chair of the Global Alliance introduces the Madrid Momentum (Learning to Lead) and details four Ps that constitute the cornerstones of PR leadership
By Anne Gregory, PhD, FCIPR
It was not that long ago (September 2014) that the World Public Relations Forum was held in Madrid where the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management, together with DIRCOM, the Spanish Association of Communication Directors, hosted more than 800 professionals from 65 countries to examine the theme of Communication with Conscience.
Distance from an event lends a certain perspective, as we all know from our various war stories on crisis communication. It allows thinking to mature as consciously and unconsciously we reflect and internalise what has happened. For me a highlight was the work done before and during the forum on leadership and this, in turn, led to the Madrid Momentum discussed in Learning to Lead, which will seek to capture the richness of the leadership roles that public relations professionals fulfil around the world.
At last, public relations comes out from under the shadow of marketing and media relations—and it is not just me who is saying it. No other than WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell—arguably the world’s most successful marketing services entrepreneur—said so, too, in the October UK edition of PR Week. He agrees, “PR now has the opportunity to do something about this.”
And it was thinking about marketing that made me reflect on just about the first thing I learned about that communication discipline: the four Ps.
The four Ps of public relations leadership
Then I realised, the four Ps were exactly what I’ve been rattling on about as my thinking on leadership in public relations has developed. Of course, these four Ps are different ones (from marketing) and operate at a higher level, which in turn has a more profound impact, but they do describe our leadership role.
Here are the four P cornerstones where my thinking sits right now.
Our professional codes of ethics say that ultimately our role is to serve society and sometimes that is seen as being in conflict with the interests of the organisations that we work for day to day.
Ultimately, our role is to help build societies that work. We achieve this in our daily work by helping our organisations to make good decisions. Decisions informed by listening to people, by appreciating the context in which they live their lives, by understanding what is important to them, by ensuring our organisations are part of the solution to the challenges that face them, not the cause of their problems.
So, we need to help our organisations clarify their purpose, and a part of this is to also identify what are our organisations’ obligations to society. This is at the heart of organisational strategy and governance because as a result of living that purpose and fulfilling their obligations we will secure a “licence to operate” for those who pay our wages.
Having determined purpose, next we have to decide the strategy on how to implement it.
This involves having rules that govern behaviour and decision-making and against which we will be judged. In common parlance, these are called values. It’s the distance between declared and lived values that form the legitimacy gap and it is this space that the rapier of social media (and other media and forums) constantly probes and holds to account.
Lived values are the surest protection against attack.
The combination of purpose and principles are at the heart of organisational character and these are most viscerally lived out by organisational leaders.
This is why leaders need public relations professionals constantly at their side, playing the role of the old court jester: Holding truth up to power, saying those things that others do not dare to, and generally telling it straight as to how other people see their words and actions.
It also means that public relations professionals have to operate everywhere within the organisation, looking at structures, processes, physical premises, ways of working—everything—because these are where principles are really lived and this is where the organisation or brand narrative is really written, not by the keyboard of a brand journalist.
It’s strange, but there continues to be far too many people who still don’t get it. Organisations meet their objectives through people: People who work for the organisation and people who work with and through it.
This means that relationships are crucial.
Research by Ocean Tomo has shown consistently that intangible assets are worth approximately 80 per cent of the value of an organisation.
Intangible assets include people, relationships, reputation…our territory.
That is how large our contribution is. Incidentally, it completely defeats me why we are drawn into being measured against the remaining 20 per cent (i.e., the worth of physical and financial assets), which is what ROI measures, instead of insisting on being measured against the 80 per cent.
This describes the new way of working that has to characterise any successful organisation. The days and ways of command-and-control and of CEOs trying to impose their will on the world are done.
Cooperation, collaboration and co-creation are the only way forward. Moreover, relationship building, mutual respect, a shared values base and common objectives, are all derived through communication.
In fact, without communication or public relations, nothing can be achieved. It is more than being simply an enabler; it actually constitutes the stuff of modern organisational life.
Learning to lead…and a call to action
Increasingly this is what has become clear to me: The time for public relations leadership is now and this leadership can—and should—be demonstrated at any level within an organisation.
Even the most junior-ranking PR professionals are being called on to interpret the world outside and to develop the communication capabilities and competence of senior staff.
It truly is a turning point for our profession and some have already grasped it. There are real leaders in our profession who are not only transforming their organisations, but are transforming the communities around them.
And so I end my four Ps post with a call to action to my global colleagues:
1. What was the moment you realised you were a leader?
2. What can public relations contribute to your society?
Record your clips in English and/or your mother tongue and the Global Alliance will categorise them into themes, geographies, challenges and cultures, with the intent to produce a living archive, freely available to all about leadership, from which we can learn and draw inspiration over the coming months and years.
The four Ps used to bring to mind the domain of marketing, but the world has moved on—the four Ps of public relations are where it’s at these days.
Update: Anne Gregory wrote a complementary post on the Global Alliance’s website (as well as for the monthly enewsletter), exploring the first P (Principles) further: Doing good by doing our job
Dr. Anne Gregory, FCIPR, is chair of the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management (GA) and professor of corporate communication at the University of Huddersfield. She leads specialist research and consultancy programmes for public and private sector clients and is an advisor to the UK Government, having undertaken reviews of government departments and three attachments.
She was president of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) in 2004, leading it to Chartered status, and was awarded the Sir Stephen Tallents Medal in 2009 for her outstanding contributions to the profession.
Dr. Gregory has written and edited 20 books, including the globally available CIPR series; authored 30 book chapters and 50 refereed journal articles and conference papers. She is editor-in-chief of the Journal of Communication Management.
You can find her on Twitter or writing for the Global Alliance’s website or newsletter. Anne Gregory’s first direct participation on PR Conversations was taking the PRoust Questionnaire (the first non-principal to accept the challenge).