In every country, the public relations profession is being constantly and increasingly criticized by mainstream media and social critics for its buffering mode of action.
Most recently it was Der Spiegel in Germany, but all one needs to do is keep a close eye on http://www.prwatch.org and most of the arguments used by our critics can be easily traced.
Personally, I do not believe that a new definition, as Jack O’Dwyer seems to imply in a recent piece on his website, can help our purpose. ….
But, by the way, what is our purpose?
To protect the reputation of our profession?
To distance serious professionals from those who actively contribute to such poor reputation?
There is no doubt that criticisms grow, at least in substance, because the function increases its clout in many private, public and social sector organizations…. otherwise, if our activities were only fickle and useless, why would they bother?
Also, there is the basic fact that in a majority of recent cases, these criticisms have been factual and based on arguments I would agree with.
I don’t wish to be too sour in my comment… but if one considers that in this very minute our global professional community is formed by some 3 million professionals; that only 10% of these are sufficiently responsible to belong to a professional associations; that many of these associations do not even bother to even monitor, let alone advocate, the day-in, day-out introduction by the public policy processes of every country of new constraints and restrictions to our practices; that most research efforts amongst our peers candidly reveal that respect of the public interest is the least of their preoccupations…why be surprised?
In my view, the 20th century US centred public relations model based on rhetoric, persuasive, marketing oriented and asymmetric communication-to, while it certainly achieved many objectives and was exported in all western and many developing countries, has also led to major collateral and undesirable effects we must recognize.
What is now needed is a radical review towards a new global public relations model based on -as my friends the American Jim Grunig or the Indian Sriramesh Krishamurthy or the Slovene Dejan Vercic or the South African Chris Skinner or the UK Anne Gregory would say- generic principles, valid throughout and specific applications founded on major political, economic, cultural variables as well as on the status of activism and media systems in each country.
Most of all, this model assumes that effective communication implies communicating-with rather than to, recognizes that each public (and each individual) is diverse and that an organization’s decision making process may be improved both in quality and in time of delivery if decisions are taken after having listened, understood and interpreted stakeholder expectancies.
Theory? Bull Shit it’s theory!
It can be done, it is being done, and it will be done…. more and more.
It is up to us professionals, associations, educators and major industry groups to make sure this bridging, rather than buffering, mode of practice reaches the necessary critical mass to really make a dent into that prevailing stereotype.
After all, coherence obliges us to say that people judge what we do and not what we say.
For one thing, the World Bank, also in partnership with the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management (http://www.globalpr.org), will be holding its first ever global summit on communication for development (www.devcomm-congress.org/worldbank/macro/2.asp) in Rome, Italy from October 25 to October 27 where public policy makers(including the World Bank’s Paul Wolfenson, UN’s Molloch Brown, EU’s Manuel Barroso, Italy’s Premier Romano Prodi and other leaders from many countries) will meet with some 500 development communicators, ngo’s and public relations researchers from all over the world to better understand how public relations adds value to an organization if it is employed before rather than after it makes a decision.
For second, the European Commission under the leadership of its Swedish vice president Margot Wallstrom(http://ec.europa.eu/commission_barroso/wallstrom/press/key_en.htm) has recently issued Plan D, a five year detailed and precise public relations plan based on stakeholder Dialogue and Debate and the communicating-with paradigm in order to improve the quality of its policy making process and therefore increase public acceptance of its achievements.
These are only two of the many, many cases of effective public relations practices that we should be also considering.