Welcome to an atypical PR Conversations tête-à-tête. One conversant is John Paluszek of Ketchum (USA) and immediate past chair of the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communications Management, a featured speaker at this year’s World Public Relations Forum (WPRF). The individual who piloted the interview and formulated the questions is Katie Sheppet from Edelman’s Melbourne, Australia office.
Katie invites John’s answers about the WPRF and its 2012 theme, Communication without Borders. Subjects covered include:
- the application of communication to the profession
- excellence in public relations
- an exciting, recent Global Alliance and Enel research study; and
- the ongoing, challenging issue of effective measurement
Communication without Borders interview
Katie Sheppet (KS) of Edelman: The theme of the upcoming World Public Relations Forum (WPRF) to be held in Melbourne, Australia in November is Communication without borders.
What does the theme mean to you, in particular, what it says about today’s PR landscape?
John Paluszek (JP) of Ketchum: In a very real sense, Communication without borders says it all, not just for the November 2012 Melbourne-based GA World Public Relations Forum, but also for the glowing prospects of the global public relations profession.
Public relations professionals from all over the world—practitioners, educators and students—will converge in Melbourne to share their experiences in a world that is now inter-related, inter-dependent and inter-active.
We now operate in an international community and at a time that presents unprecedented opportunities for the prepared (i.e., professionally trained) public relations practitioner. Public relations is thriving because we are offering more services to more kinds of organizations and institutions in more parts of the world.
As Walter Annenberg once said, “Every human advance or reversal can be understood through communications.”
That’s our turf. And, literally, there are no borders in the Internet ether.
KS: In your role as senior counsel at Ketchum, I understand you specialize in reputation management and corporate responsibility. Please share some insights on excellence in corporate communications. For example, which areas of this will you be exploring at the WPRF?
JP: Our profession is evolving, fittingly, in parallel with today’s profound evolution of the global society. This is particularly true in corporate public relations.
Our panel at the Melbourne WPRF will provide an ideal opportunity to examine how global corporate enterprises are “staying on the core message”—delivering the corporate brand—even as they operate in the world’s diverse cultures and socio-political-economic systems.
Many companies are finding that long-term commitments to corporate social responsibility, a.k.a. sustainable development, help them build and maintain better relationships around the world.
Evidence: About 5,000 companies have signed on to the United Nations Global Compact, in which they pledge to operate in concert with the Compact’s 10 principles clustering in environment, human rights, labor rights and anti-corruption. And the related new trend to companies regarding “integrated reporting” is an obvious public relations “sweet spot.”
Of course corporate “excellence” comes in many forms. But to me the most impressive “excellence trend” is the fast-increasing number of companies in which the corporate communication function is now positioned at a very high level of management.
CEOs get it. They know that now, more than ever, companies must truly develop reciprocal relationships with their publics (i.e., stakeholders) and those relationships can be as complex as they are valuable.
It’s clear that we, as practitioners, can help quite significantly.
KS: At the WPRF, you’ll be on the panel discussing the results of a recent GA and Enel study.
What will the results of this study tell us about the current and future states of corporate communications? Is this a living case study of Communication without borders?
JP: Yes, the just-completed Global Alliance-Enel study, to be formally published at the Melbourne WPRF, is revealing on several levels in support of the Communications without borders mantra.
The nine multinationals studied, each in their respective business sector, nevertheless displayed a common commitment to strive for communication excellence, because in each case top management expected nothing less for the organization’s sustained success.
The study documents how excellent corporate communication contributed significantly to the achievement of corporate objectives—some strategic, some tactical.
Importantly, almost always, effective listening to stakeholders is shown as a key performance indicator (KPI). This “listening” is, of course, being facilitated by a vast new social media technology and platforms, which can deliver a near-constant flow of stakeholder opinions, attitudes, expectations, demands—and, ultimately, behaviors.
There is another Communication without borders aspect as well:
In order to achieve global consistency of messages and outcomes, many top corporate communication officers must organize, coordinate, motivate and reward hundreds of employees spread all over the globe.
It is in itself a formidable management challenge. New internal communication technology is quite helpful but only if applied with special knowledge and skill.
KS: How can we ensure that these standards of excellence are applied throughout the industry?
What is the GA doing to help to ensure messages are spread and gain traction with global peers?
JP: Funny that you should ask, because this very PR Conversations interview is, in effect, a herald for the Global Alliance’s intention to continue to be of service to the international corporate public relations and communication management community. During the WPRF we’ll explore options for how corporate “best practices” can be further gathered and shared via Global Alliance auspices, as well as partner with like-minded organizations, individuals and platforms.
Of course, the GA can’t ensure that “excellence” will always prevail. But we’re greatly encouraged by what we learned in the Global Alliance-Enel study.
By extrapolation, it’s clear that progress is being made across the corporate communications spectrum of business sectors. We’re confident that there are many more corporate “best practices” to be harvested—not necessarily as “standards.” More likely as communication programs that are working to help achieve objectives in a specific business environment, over a given period of time.
More broadly, however, in terms of “standards” for communication excellence, the WPRF will finalize and publish The Melbourne Mandate. Consistent with the Stockholm Accords issued at the GA’s 2010 WPRF, The Melbourne Mandate will address the critical role of communication in organizational success and the “character, culture and responsibility” commitments intrinsic to a “communicative organization.”
KS: As the PR and communication industry is changing and developing each day, it’s becoming more difficult to measure the success of our programs and campaigns. Older or traditional methods of calculating return on investment (ROI) are becoming outdated, whilst new media are creating new platforms to evaluate.
What developments in measurement have you researched that will provide effective evaluation and which practitioners and clients are most likely to be supportive?
JP: Can you keep a secret? I was delighted that the WPRF’s captains accepted my suggestion of linking the title of the important session on measurement and evaluation to Higgs Boson. I think the parallels are impressive.
Never mind that the Higgs Boson was discovered in Melbourne a few decades ago; both Higgs and the evaluation of public relations success have been quite elusive for a very long time and each is critically important to progress—first in physics, second in effective public relations.
There are some recent developments on measurement very worthy of discussion. At the WPRF, John Croll, CEO of Sentia Media, and I will offer news and insights on progress on the development of standards for measurement—work by the Institute for Public Relations, AMEC and—I’m delighted to include—Ketchum’s in-house expert, Dr. David Rockland.
Among subjects we’ll cover will be the evolving impact of social media and new evaluation of return on investment (ROI). Measurement, of course, will continue to be a long, intellectually tough slog.
But that’s the kind of thing that makes the future of public relations so fascinating.
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The Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA) is hosting the 2012 World PR Forum (WPRF) scheduled in Melbourne, Australia in November 2012. John Paluszek of Ketchum, is a featured speaker at this year’s WPRF and immediate past chair of the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communications Management (GA). Edelman’s Melbourne office has offered PRIA digital support to drive conversations online prior to the Forum, with Katie Sheppet taking the lead and initiative in formulating and conducting this guest interview on PR Conversations. Even if you cannot be in attendance in November, follow along with the hashtag #WPRF.
Katie Sheppet is an account executive at Edelman Melbourne where she has experience across marketing, digital and organisational communications. Contact Katie by email, follow her on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.
On behalf of Edelman, long recognized for its sponsorship of PR education, Katie is volunteering digital support to the Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA), the GA member/national PR association host of the 2012 Melbourne World Public Relations Forum (WPRF). Her efforts include initiating this interview and formulating the questions for first-publication on PR Conversations. She is also sourcing complementary sites for reprinting purposes and to further the online conversation in advance of the 2012 World PR Forum.
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John Paluszek, APR, Fellow PRSA, is senior counsel at Ketchum. He is immediate past chair of the Global Alliance (GA); liaison to the United Nations for the GA and the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA); and a member of the Commission on Public Relations Education. He served as PRSA’s 1989 president and was the 2010 recipient of its Atlas Award for lifetime achievement in international public relations.
A former journalist, John has written many commentaries for business and academic journals, including Journalism Studies, the Foreign Policy Association’s Viewpoints and a CNBC blog. He is the author of An American Journey, his family’s multi-generational memoir, and seminal books on corporate social responsibility, Organizing for Corporate Social Responsibility (Amacom, 1973) and Will The Corporation Survive? (Prentice-Hall, 1977). In January 2012, he did a guest post for PR Conversations, Public diplomacy: a higher calling for public relations. Contact him by email.