Is it communication for development or is it public relations? Does it really matter what it is, as long as it is what it is? A fascinating, somewhat irritating, but truly rich chronicle of a passionate exchange on (what I would call..) stakeholder relationship practices.. Peter and Paul have a go..and..Ursula helps shed some light..

Next Friday, October 27, in Rome (Italy) the Global Alliance is holding a ‘special event session’ at the World Congress on Communication for Development (see earlier posts) whose official title is: The role of public relations in the new development paradigm. In preparation for this event -and in view of the final recommendations of the three day debate with some 600 participants from all over the world- a first, rough and explicitly ‘all-encompassing-and-to-be-very-much-slimmed-in-its-final-version’ draft of the final document, was put together on behalf of the organising committee by Paul Mefalopulos (World Bank) and circulated for comments to all presenters, including of course the ones from the Global Alliance…One the GA’s presenters, Peter Walker, Executive Chairman of PIELLE consulting firm, sent a critical comment which opened a direct debate with the drafter, in turn provoking a second reply by Paul and on….and on. Somewhat confused, and surprised by the unexpected passions revealed through this exchange, I sought light and clarification from Ursula Stroh, the highly reputed and specifically competent South African scholar from the University of Pretoria who is now teaching Global Relations at the University of Maryland and sent her the whole exchange for comment. I am confident no one will mind if, for the benefit of my many friends who have taken to increasingly visit this blog, I post the more crucial elements of this debate as I strongly believe its contents are of extreme and enlightening interest besides the questionable merit of the ‘naming game’ in which we all, and much too often, seem to cherish involving ourselves in…..(by the way, I will not even say how many visits this blog receives every day, because it is an embarrassing figure and clearly not representative of reality, as spammers have begun to pester obliging me, at least momentarily and until I find a better solution, to introduce a filter: so comments now need to be approved by me before being posted. I apologise for this… but this is the only way to avoid frankly depressing spam messages which ruin the overall quality of the comments)….

So, for your perusal and in anticipation of what I am sure will be a stimulating Congress, please find:

°the first all encompassing draft of the final document (argument and recommendation);

°Peter’s first comment to a letter from Warren Feek, Executive Director of the Communication Initiative seeking replies to specific answers related to Paul’s draft paper (18 October Walker reply to Feek);

°Paul’s first reaction to Peter’s comments (Paul on Peter’s comments)

°Peter’s reaction to Paul’s (oct 20 peter’s reply to paul)

°my reply, as coordinator of this GA effort (toni to peter and paul)

°my ‘private’ note to Ursula Stroh asking for some ‘light’ (toni requires help from ursula)

°Ursula’s very forceful reply (ursula sheds light)

I know it’s a lot to read, but… bear with it my friends…it is well worth it!

And, ca va sans dire!!, please continue the debate….and tell me and other readers of this blog what you think!        






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12 Replies to “Is it communication for development or is it public relations? Does it really matter what it is, as long as it is what it is? A fascinating, somewhat irritating, but truly rich chronicle of a passionate exchange on (what I would call..) stakeholder relationship practices.. Peter and Paul have a go..and..Ursula helps shed some light..

  1. Again, I support this and couldn’t have said it better. I would just like to emphasize that my connotation with the word ‘management’ should not be taken literally. I merely wanted to point out that we shouldn’t approach developmental communication or relationship management from a top-down approach, but that the values and needs of the publics should always take the lead and determine the approach followed (as so well put by David Phillips)!

  2. thank you David for this stimulating, brilliant and incisive comment. I only hope that amongst the ‘few’ who read it all will make an effort to understand, elaborate, digest and transform into their day-to-day approach to their professional activity.

  3. Perhaps it does not help to express a management function in terms of relationship management. But we have to pursue the idea.

    There are three reasons: It is confused with marketing (a much abused practice in the public relations portfolio of disciplines); Relationships are complex and, finally, management is a two-way street with the constituency also managing the ‘organisation’.

    If we accept that public relations has at its core the skill required to empower the creation, development and optimisation of relationships then I think we all agree that the communication platform, channel and values are all part of this continuum. They are the components needed to align values.

    Which platform/channel is of consequence because it helps define how the relationship shall be regarded. A fixed MS Word document is a statement. A wiki an invitation for peer review, a blog an invitation to discourse and so on.

    Whether it is a form of ‘new technology’ or ‘e’ something is not significant. It is the intent and execution using technologies – as they are and exist and one expects PR people to understand forms for communication; it is part of what we do. Today, a hand written letter has a value that is almost priceless.

    What I see from this discussion, and I am only acquainted with two of the participants in the conversation, is people in PR who need to be confident in what they are about to do.

    The discussion is really about the nature of the profession at its peak – there is no need to regard the agenda of others – they are insignificant and subordinate.

    Public Relations is just that. It is what makes organisations; it is what makes organisations effective and it is the only management discipline that is essential because all other require to align values before they can begin to have effect.

    In business, there is no value, no asset, no revenue without relationships; in diplomacy there is no culture, no governance, no nation, no economy without relationships. Relationships are the most powerful of all assets. Relationships are the expression of alignment of (among many) personal, emotional, cultural, ethnic, community, political, historic and economic values.

    Paul Mefalopulos said: “The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set by the Member States of the United Nations strive to address critical poverty issues and solve some of the most pressing problems within the next decade. But will they be successful? Are citizens in donor countries fatigued by endless calls to arms? Is there really light at the end of the long, dark tunnel of inequality? Why have we not yet resolved the key problems? And have any poverty alleviation solutions of the past really worked?”

    He could have added ‘are the values of the constituents aligned?’ That is the Public Relations question. MDG’s need to be understood first.

    The issue of ‘communication for development’ is technical. Any old (and I mean old) advertising expert can shout words at people (its called ‘marketing’ or promotion or propaganda or some other archaic equivalent of the Town Cryer) but only public relations practitioners identify, transparently re-phrase for clarity, detect dissonance, negotiate, impel change and establish community to align values. The conversation, persuasion and realisation is in the homes, cafe’s, suburbs, townships, nations and world fora. The process is also the solution. It is called ‘public relations’.

    The extent to which the meeting in Rome resolved poverty and its associated issues is a matter of interest only in so far as it resolved how the values associated with poverty and associated issues are aligned to effect affective relationships (the solution).

    The use of a culturalist viewpoint, an interpretative perspective, integrated research methods and theories, contextual use of methods, media and ICT, mutual understanding and recognition to formal and informal intercultural learning, training and research are second tier and the idea that Communication for Development should be prefixed by the word Managing is perfectly right for some functional activity but with values and dissonance as entrenched as statements like ‘Managing communication in development are based largely on assertions and apocryphal data and that an evidence based approach needs to be adopted’ identifies, a range of values and the extension that are component to the desired outcome. Not right, not wrong, but values as expressed.

    A consideration surely is to seek explication as to the meaning and the extent to which values attach to ‘addressing critical poverty issues’.

    Obfuscation, is acid eating at the heart of so much we do and just to be allowed to ask that question, transparently and to seek answers that are mandated through transparent involvement offers the means to begin to deploy second tier processes.

    Perhaps Rome should have said: Untill public relations is deployed, there is no value in the use and application of ‘communication’ because it can only lead to imperfect development.

    Are public relations practitioners capable of saying such things? Have we the capability to align us with our constituents’ values to resolve this issue?

  4. Mafalda,
    thank you for this comment. For those who are not aware, Mafalda is a highly regarded portuguese scholar and very involved in social communication. I wish you would intervene more often in this blog. We all have very much to learn from your insights. Send me a post on an issue you are interested in raising.

  5. Hi Toni,
    I’m afraid I’m arriving a bit late to this discussion but as you know I was in brazil. If you think it would still be usefull I could try to write down some ideas but meanwhile I would just like to remember that Prof. Grunig has written about Pr and Public Communication and that when we are talking about communication for development it might be a good idea to think about what in USA they call Public Communication and I like to consider as Communication in the Public Interest. It wouldn’t be a bad idea also to take a look in what in latin america they consider as PR just to be less ethnocentric… Another aspect that I think might be of interest to Paul and Warren is all the aspects where PR professionals can help in developping and implementig communication for development. I think that maybe we are those that are in a better position to develop strategies for social change as we manage different aspects of the communications process…and as you know I think that “words are actions”.
    Mafalda Eiró-Gomes

  6. and here is my reply to Brian.
    Sorry about the trouble with your message. I don’t know whether to attribute this to the astronomical number of spam that the blog is receiving or whether, Brian, there is something wrong at your end…as this seems to happening only to you…
    In any case: besides the ones you have just mentioned, there are other tools as well which are usable to develop a relationship.
    For example: people, emotions, rationale, air quality, the environment, sound, video, innuendo, atmosphere, silence….
    Of course you can argue that all these may also be considered as communicative tools, but this would only be a sophistic argument as you know better than I do that 9 professional communicators our of 10 would not include these in their day to day professional luggage..
    Which, on the other hand and even if they did, does not circumvent the basic argument that, in public relations, communication is a tool for developing relationships between an organization and its stakeholder groups, rather than the other way around, which seems to me what most of my colleagues tend to believe.

  7. and here is a message from Brian Kilgore:

    These three lines, posted above,… >
    I spent the better part of half an hour writing a message last night, but I delivered it to Toni using what Mr. Phillip’s referred to as “new PR” (via the comments box on a blog) and “new PR” ate most of my message between Toronto and Italy.
    I believe much of the “new PR’ is non-productive, counterproductive, a waste of money, generally bad because it sucks up budget that could be spent intelligently, …
    And some of the “new PR” may be useful someday, and some is useful now.
    But please do not expect anyone to listen to the amateur radio called podcasts until pros get involved.

    Last year, over in the IABC Cafe, at , in reply to a blog thread started by then-chair Warren Bickford I casually alluded to the awful design of the IABC Cafe and the terrible way it communicated. “Design” means much more that the look, by the way.
    Warren sent a message starting off “I’ll bite” and asked me for details, which I provided, as to the lousy design of blogs.
    This one is no better, not becasue it is Toni’s fault but because the blog design technicians but a leaky ship and it’s the only ship many bloggers are willing to board. Compuserve’s PR Forum was better designed a decade ago. Digital Photography Review is better designed today.
    And not only are the layout and arrangement of words bad in most blogs, the technology does not work consistently.
    So, PR pepple, I suggest 1/ beware of trusting new technology, and 2/ if you want to adopt new technology, go back to the creators and try to get them to apply lessons learned from the past.
    João Duarte is right in his message when he notes that “management” is not always to be all and end all.

    Back to my original message from last night, shortened to leave out my observations from yesterday on Mr. Phillips message.
    After I quoted Toni, “communication (never with an s) is only one of the tools (today admittedly the most relevant..) through which an organization creates, develops and enriches its relationships….., I asked for more detail on what other “tools” in addition to communication(s) might be.

    Are they the products of an organization?
    When I started my busienss in 1986 I bought a Macintosh, and I believe I never could have run my business as well as I have if Apple had not invented this. Apple’s product created, developed and enriched the company’s relationship with me.

    Are physical surroundings another tool? My most recent former wife went to the opera in Toronto’s brand new opera hall a week ago yesterday, and this past Friday we went to a piano recital in an historic old wodden building, and in both cases, the surroundings help create, develop and enrich the experience..

    So, are these the kinds of tools in addition to communication Toni alludes too?
    And if so, where do we as professional communicators fit in?

    Once when I was director of public relations at Northern Telecom I complained about the chosen office building for a new regional headquarters and was then asked asked to find a better location, which I did. And I’ve been involved in designing and placing and getting approvals for building signs — putting time and temperature in the sign along the side of the main highway once. And I finally did talk Northern Telecom into making a transparent telephone for me, once.

    Are these non-communications examples of tools, in turn related to communicators?

    And where is our responsibility as communicators to protest bad office design, noisy surroundings, crummy cubicles, lack of peace and quiet in which to work, failure by HR departments to instruct facility managers to take work styles into account, and so on?


  8. Joao,
    I wish we had much more of what you define as ‘management stigma’ in our discourse!
    If you agree that words are important, as Peter would certainly say if he was responding now (only because this is what he told me..), Mary Parker Follett (a social scholar who wrote on the topic in the early twentieth-century-see wikipedia) defined management as “the art of getting things done through people” NOT controlling them.
    Rather than a strictly management concept, that of stakeholder is an economic one.
    Of course I appreciate your point, but we cannot have, as the italians say ‘la moglie ubriaca e la botte piena’ (ie and loosely…a drunken wife and a full bottle..).
    In my view there are many dimensions lacking in public relations discourse and management and stakeholders unfortunately are only two.
    It is in very recent years that the term stakeholder has been patched on our language, probably only in an attempt to ‘upgrade’ (in this you are correct, I am afraid) our language in the hope of being better heard by organizational dominant coalitions….as ‘neophites’ as we may sound.
    To the contrary, I would very much hope that both the management and stakeholder concepts find more interest and attention in all social, political and non private sector circles.

  9. Toni,

    I must start by saying that David’s suggestion got my curiosity and I used the link he suggested to easily access the document and took a snapshot at the main ideas of the discussion.

    The point which catched my eye in this brief reading is the “Communication for Development” vs “Managing Communication for Development” point. (And risking to contradict Ursula) I do believe that words are important in this discussion, so my two questions are:
    1. can’t we think of issues and concepts without them being mostly ‘management’ issues? Unfortunately I think we have a lot of that stigma in PR since we are constantly eager to be acknowledged as management interlocutors and top level strategy-makers. The mere concept of ‘stakeholder’ (a management concept widely adopted in PR) lacks the democratic and communicative value of a concept like ‘publics’ (which I think is more adequate to use in Public Relations since it is much more in line with the dialogue and communicating-with – not communicating to – perspective).
    2. It seemed to me that Peter’s perspective, stating again and again that the management (business) principles are the most fit and useful to use in each and every area of communication, is too less open to diversity. As you mention in your message to both interlocutors, the WPRF in Trieste gave us a lot of fine examples of state of the art initiatives and communication practices coming from the most unexpected contexts. For example, Manoel Ribeiro, an Architect working with communities in the Favelas of Rio de Janeiro, showed how much of a “communication for development” example can be given without mentioning management principles. So, even if we choose to fall in love with all the positive aspects of management, how can we cope with so many successfull examples of fine communication and relationship coming from other social areas?

    João Duarte

  10. I very much appreciate this, David, and am grateful for the wake-up call. The classic knee jerk/pavlovian way of action had taken over. I did not ‘think twice’ as one should always before attempting to open a channel..

    Brian, interesting and worthy thoughts. My personal view is however that for the public relations professional, communication (never with an s) is only one of the tools (today admittedly the most relevant..) through which an organization creates, develops and enriches its relationships…..

  11. Toni, we see here the break between old and new PR paradigm.

    These concepts are significant to the constituencies involved. The exchange also demonstrates that we have a lot to lean about the nature of conversational relationships.

    Historically, a person would provide a paper and circulate it for approval and comment – and that is what happened.

    Now, there is a different way.

    What if the paper is made available using any of the many forms of social media. It needs to be in one of the formats that can be progressively opened up for wider consultation, contribution and participation. It can be surrounded by debate and discussion (email, IM, Blog, wiki, Skype conference, meeting, congress etc), progressively it becomes the common property of all active, aware and latent participants.

    This is not soft v hard, old v new it is just a way of creating a conversation. It is as old as mankind and as new as the Internet.

    Well entrenched and robust views are still available in this model and progressively more evidence, research and resource can and should be added to enhance its value (peer reviewed knowledge added to any property enhances its value). Reasoned consideration can be in the hands of all participants – even the whole world.

    The new way needs avail contribution to a conversation among active, aware and latent participants.

    The nature of transparency, porosity and agency is the at the heart of this way of doing business.

    As it turns out, you posting the papers, is a move in this direction but suppose the debate and discussion used modern communications tools. Would that not be more useful powerful and relevant?

    The very fact that the initial paper is an old fashioned word processed document set the agenda.

    The medium affected the message as much as the contribution by the participants.

    One alternative might start like this: and can then be moved to any number of channels for communication such as as a wiki, word document attachment by email, an email, a web page, a blog post, an instant message or even as (dead tree) paper.

    Public Relations is changed but we have to walk the talk.
    Ignorance, of course, is no defence when the participants are …… communicators?

  12. I offer my thanks, and my sympathy.

    Thanks because the kinds of development projects referred to are important, and those of us not directly involved should be grateful to those who are.

    And my sympathy because, yes, this stuff is extraordinarily complicated, at two levels. Your minds can be boggled. (whatever that means)

    Level one is quasi-technical; do we share understanding of the lexicon, and of the resources available, whether human or electronic or just paper and ink for note making.

    Level two is doing the communicating, once we all are using the same words.

    With that out of the way, several thoughts based on skimming the words, not reading them in depth.

    Semantics is always a problem for professional communicators. Imagine how much worse it is for non-pro communicators. This morning I was helping someone apply for a Director of Marketing job. In truth, it was a Director of PR job but the PR profession has done such a lousy job promoting our profession that only a few of those hiring us have a clue.

    I’ve been in profesional communications since 1960, when I spent the summer as a newspaper photographer, including shooting for a French-language paper when my entire knowledge of the language was two years of Canadian high-school study.

    I think there are six kinds of “Communication” or “Communications” (with or without the “s” at the end, but worthy of a capital “C” at the start.)

    I’ve been in four, and by default in another and managed to avoid, for the most part, formal, academic connection with the sixth. But I’ve applied its principles.

    1/ MEDIA COMMUNICATIONS — where independent organizations gather and create information which is made available to broad audiences, and this includes newspapers (L’Evangeline, then edited by Emery LeBlanc, who became a well-respected Canadian Public Relations Society member later on, in my case, and the Moncton Time and the Moncton Transcript, were my first daily newspaper employers, and then more papers as I went through school and began by formal career.)magazines, radio news, television news, various news web sites, and more.

    2/ CORPORATE COMMUNICATIONS, which I define as the same as public relations, based on my definition of PR, which is based on the Canadian Public Relations Society definition, with some action added instead of the normal vague “understanding and awareness” I’ve been in the PR and Corporate Communications business since 1970.

    3/ COMMUNICATIONS as in telecommunications. I’ve been on the equipment side, (Northern Electric to Northern Telecom to what is now Nortel) and the common carrier side (CNCP Telecommunications) and this kind of communications is content-independent. The telephone does not care what language you speak, and the TV satellite operates the same whether carrying Anderson Cooper around the world on CNN International or broadcasting an evangelical Christian who-ha from some university stadium in Washington state back to Alabama.

    4/ INTERPERSONAL BUSINESS COMMUNICATIONS is, to me, the narrower, less public, kinds of communications between and among people is a business or similar context. Things like manageing a meeting, making a sales presentation, giving feedback, listening well, reading e-mails, writing e-mails, etc. I’ve got a 19-module course about this stuff that I teach sometimes, and it’s a long way from PR.

    It is, however, not that far for some of what I see in the “communications for development” discussion.

    And I’d drop some of what apparently a lot of IABC members do — writing a memo or a few paragraphs on a web site telling employees how to get reimbursed for their dentists’ invoices — into this category.

    And this is the kind of communications referred to in all those job ads that say, “Must be an excellent communicator.”

    5/ ENTERTAINMENT AND INFORMATION COMMUNICATIONS includes as perhaps its most obvious elements almost all or all the parts of the mass media vehicles that are not “editorial.” This definition, of course, requires some understanding of what “editorial” means.

    E&I includes all product and service advertising (but not corporate advertising, understanding, again, what “corporate” advertising means) sports programs, the various Country-Name-Here Idol, motion pictures in theatres, most teaching in schools, and lots of other things fall into this category.

    And finally…

    6/ MASS COMMUNICATIONS, although I’m vague the borders around this. I know there are Mass Communications courses at universities, and they cover things like the power of pale blue and how mobs behave and how and why goose-stepping and saluting and bows and curtsies and veils and denim clothes, and so on and so forth all “communicate.”

    I carry a business card that says I am Vice-Principal of First Principles Communication. In Canada, a Vice-Principal is often the secondary school administrator responsible for discipline, and that’s part of my role. I get called in when clients are getting out of hand, and lend my grey hair and physical mass and four decades of experience to straightening out the misbehaviours.

    And First Principles is based on my First Principles of Public Relations that I wrote 20 years ago when I started my own firm, and includes, among various first principles, the idea that before starting any PR activity we need to know what we want to accomplish.

    So… in regard to development communication, or communication about development, or managing one of the above, or something…

    I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, yes, knowing definitions is important so you stay on track. But on the other hand, you can spend forever defining things and not accomplishing anything.

    So you need Interpersonal Business Communications to ensure all the players understand each other, while applying Public Relations and Corporate Communications strategies and tools and techniques to messages carried by (tele)communications — the PR people need to understand the preparation process for telecommunications transmission — so that messages can reach audiences, so those audiences can take action. It might be to dig deep into the soil and construct the well, it might be to dig deep into the pockets and provide the money to buy the shovels to dig the well.

    And more than “editorial” communications can be important to development; the messages above refer to Geldoff, but I think of Willie Nelson’s concerts for farmers, and more and more concerts, in more and more places, raising money or maybe just promoting a beer company with little or no money raised. (insider story about the Rolling Stones and SARS in Toronto)

    And, thanks to Bono, Branson, and even Steve Jobs earlier in the month, I can use a good MASS COMMUNICATIONS example; the use of the color red, and the three letters, capitalized to RED, to promote additional international aid.


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