Reconsidering our terms of engagement following the institutionalization debate: a draft statement…

From the very beginning, and well before the debate on institutionalization began on this blog, I recall that David Rossi -director of public relations at MPS (Monte dei Paschi di Siena), a leading Italian banking institution- while deciding if his organization would sponsor the Euprera Congress in partnership with his peers Gianluca Comin from Enel, Europe’s second electricity company and Carlo Fornaro from Telecom Italia– said to me:

it will be very important for the congress to issue some sort of final statement containing recommended guidelines -based on the consensus of scholars, researchers, educators but also of senior professionals which will have emerged from the discussion-on how organizations should approach the institutionalization process of their public relations management function’.

The following is an early attempt to draft a pre-Congress statement taking in consideration the 20 dedicated posts, the 120 different comments which have so far appeared on this blog, and the contents of the 11 video interviews with international scholars and professionals posted, as of today, on the congress’s website (linkable from the right hand column of this blog).

Of course this text represents my personal opinion, but is deeply indebted, sometimes verbatim, to the many friends and colleagues who have agreed to participate in the discussion and to whom I extend my gratitude.

The process of institutionalizing the public relations function -which is proceeding at an ever more rapid pace in every form of organizations (private, public, social) and in all countries- offers a unique, and possibly unrepeatable, window of opportunity for our more aware, dedicated and concerned global community -composed of professionals, scholars, educators and students alike.
A window also provided by an unprecedented organizational and social focus on the practice of stakeholder relationship management as being increasingly embedded in the global corporate governance debate.

Our professional community needs, now more than ever, to reconsider, understand and communicate its new terms of engagement and this window of opportunity mandates that we undertake a much needed concerted advocacy effort to con-vince (from the Latin vincere cum) organizations -as well as primary stakeholder groups in business, society and the media- that the institutionalization of the public relations function -whose aim is to assist organizations in improving the quality of relationships with their internal and external stakeholder publics- needs to be situationally grounded upon the unique characteristics of each single organization, its culture, values and traditions… but also on a few generic globally valid principles, to ensure that the increasingly demonstrable strategic, managerial and operational values that effective relationships with stakeholder publics provide to organizations, be generally acknowledged, respected and, most importantly, nurtured.

By embedding stakeholder relationship management with the institutionalization of the public relations and communication function, we advocate that the function be empowered, following an inclusive internal bottom-up process, to counsel, assist and support other organizational functions in their respective stakeholder relationship policies and programs.
In practice, this implies that each organization recognize and identify its internal/external stakeholder publics, inherently diverse from those of other organizations, and distribute the responsibility of relationships with them to each relevant management function.

From this premise, it is only a natural consequence that the public relations function -which in most well structured organizations has now become an autonomous managerial function reporting to the CEO or the Chair- be held directly responsible for relationships with a relevant selection of these stakeholder publics (core), while at the same time be assigned to counsel, facilitate and support other management functions in their relationships and communication activities with respective stakeholder publics (extended).

This ensures a coherent and effective approach to stakeholder relationship management by the entire organization.

Similarly, it seems only natural that by assuming that role, the function also be held responsible for developing and implementing –again, in full partnership with those other relevant management functions- an active, intense and continual program of monitoring and listening to the expectations of stakeholder publics on specific issues related to specific organizational objectives.

This, to fully understand, and interpret to fellow managers and before decisions are taken, the expected consequences of those decisions, as well as, once more jointly, evaluate the feasibility of including at least part of those expectations in the decisions.
This undoubtedly accelerates the times of their implementation, a feature which today is often the most relevant indicator of the quality of an organizational decision.

The active participation of public relations to organizational strategic decision making processes is a direct consequence of institutionalization, and becomes effective if and when the concept of responsible management (putting in place what it would take to set the organization on the right path) is embedded as a primary across-the-board value for each leadership function which is, yes!, responsible to the organization, but is also mandated to act responsibly towards all stakeholder publics.
For the public relations and communication function this implies a thorough and detailed review of all existing communicative and relationship practices of the entire organisation (core and extended) to ensure responsible and coherent organizational behaviours.

Finally, to ensure the most effective institutionalization process, a number of caveats need to be considered by involved parties in order to avoid other potential undesired consequences of institutionalization:

° possible management tensions caused by a necessarily independent, unbiased and professionally competent listening to (and interpretation of) internal/external stakeholder expectations, in order to improve the quality of organizational decisions, must in no way interfere, nor delay, nor disrupt the organization’s much needed effort towards creative and innovative processes, products and services.
Responsible management is such not only when deciding to incorporate stakeholder expectations into its decisions, but also when, for various and sustainable reasons, it decides to counter intuitively, albeit being well aware of the consequences, pursue decisions which do not necessarily align with stakeholder expectations;

° conservativism, reluctance to change, sitting tight and doing things as usual, adoption of exclusive and top-down decision making processes, looking back and not forward, buffering, crystallizing the status quo, dis-incentivating independent and out of the box thinking… are all typical knee jerk undesired consequences of institutionalization which need to be carefully watched out for and avoided.

As always happens when a professional activity undergoes an institutionalization process, some of its practices tend to move towards maturity, also inducing a natural, albeit partial, processes of disintermediation.

This, only apparent, paradox tells us that while formulating policies we must definitely focus on looking ahead, anticipating and considering emerging variables; but we must also take a serious look at existing options for a responsible and innovative re-intermediation or, where this appears not advisable or realistic, be ready to abandon certain paradigms and practices which no longer seem effective and, albeit critically, embrace new ones, in order to avoid that institutionalization freeze or prolong the undesirable consequences of some of those practices which, even though once effective, are now, at least in part, being disintermediated.

That’s it…

I do hope that this attempt to rationalize the highly stimulating conversation we have been having in these last few weeks will provoke further suggestions, criticisms and opinions, also to enable all participants to better contribute to the discourse which will be certainly stimulating at the upcoming Euprera Congress.

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11 Replies to “Reconsidering our terms of engagement following the institutionalization debate: a draft statement…

  1. Benita / Toni / everyone

    In answer to your question in your September 10th post Benita, the answer is yes – more than the bridging, mirror, reflective role. More than a communication role inwards. Toni (September 12th post) cited examples of the “change us” intervention played out by his consulting firm. I appreciate the quality of the intervention. The example though does not answer my question. What role does in-house PR counsel play in “change us?”

    When the Porters, Peters state that only 10% of deliberate planned corporate strategies get implemented as is, then what percentage of emergent strategies do? And what role do we play in the latter, if any? Is there unclaimed turf to play on? If stakeholder relations is PR’s field of play, is our role simply to manage the relationship, communicate inwards intelligence and persuade outwards – or is there a higher calling?

  2. Eric, let me keep this one short just to prove that I can! (What it will really prove is that I still have a lot to do!).

    The terms I used in my comment above were ‘PR’s ultimate purpose’, the ‘business we are in’, a ‘common framework’ for what we do. To me that refers to PR’s mission, not to a job description. I also talked about the destination, where PR is going. There I think we are on the same page!

  3. Ooops, forgot… we could just modify the health one to ““Public Relations is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

  4. Benita, you indeed are a prolific writer;) At danger of repeating myself I do not believe that defining, describing or even institutionalizing a public relations function is worth the energy and focus of the happy few that have taken it on them to contribute to an immature and emerging body of knowledge about something that is pervasive throughout society.

    If you look at a sector like “health” you will have numerous functions, jobs, etc under it, of which some may have clear job definitions. If you look at any of the many definitions of health, they are similar to that of the World Health Organization which says at “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

    So as I argued in my earlier post this deals with the achievement, the contribution to a desired state, in a nutshell the “impact or relevance of the sector” rather than the description of its jobs, activities and outputs by whatever kind of individual. Interestingly enough, not only can healthworkers identify with this but also society at large.

    As there are already numerous job descriptions in existence for public relations we could try to focus on the ultimate generic goal of it all. Who best contributes to the achievement of that goal is open to competition and shouldn’t be claimed by any single profession or occupation.

    Jeez, long post as well

  5. Don’t kid us Eric, you know that you always use provocative language—but it would be nice if you used it more often here on PRC (that is, just to make sure that we don’t fall into the trap of groupthink—I think Fraser would welcome some help!!) The only immediate behavioural response I can promise is to pick up the pen/squeeze the mouse and exchange ideas, but I do agree that something needs to be done. What we have to talk about, is what and who.

    I do think that a lack of agreeance on a definition/ description of the function is a problem, at least here where I am situated at the southern tip of Africa. (Do keep in mind that we South Africans always joke that we are 20 years behind with anything—although these days there is consensus that it is closer to 50).

    I find the fact that PR is practised in so many ways and forms a strength. But that unfortunately is not the general view. People are always talking about PR’s lack of identity, how it is splintering, etc. (Whether there is a lack of identity depends on your viewpoint, of course). Therefore I am always wondering about PR’s ultimate purpose, a paradigm under which most aspects of PR as practised can fall.

    I therefore differ from you that all that is important is “the quality of the trip and if you reached your destination”. Do you even know your destination before you start the bus? To me the latter is very important. Even more so for students. They don’t yet have a license to drive anything and have no clue where they are going. As far as they can see, some PR practitioners are driving buses, some scooters, and others some very fancy cars. Some are even being chauffeured. So what business are we in? Automobiles? Heavy vehicles? Fun vehicles? Tourism? Or might it be transportation? We need a common denominator, something that links us all. And we all need to know what that is.

    That brings me to the need for an institutionalization debate: To my mind it doesn’t help if only us PR people know what business we are in (some do, some don’t). But the big frustration (especially if you are working in a big organization) is that many of your bosses don’t – this is why they are passing the PR function around like a rugby ball at a match. Where it is situated and to whom it reports depends on the worldview of the leader/ manager. That is a very uncomfortable position to be in—I must say that I used to hate it.

    So institutionalisation to me is establishing the most important facets of the function in-house so that everybody, especially leaders have some common framework for what it is. Therefore I think that one of the most important things that needs doing here is to get PR as a subject into the business schools so that leaders of the future have some understanding of the value it can add.

    And here our professional organizations can play a big role—are they indeed doing this? Did you do this as President of Euprera? Is the global Alliance doing this?

    Fraser, I am very interested in what you are proposing, but I have to understand exactly what you mean. Can we first establish some common ground, please. If you say PR’s role is more than… more than…, I make the assumption that you agree with the roles described, but that it doesn’t stop there, it’s not enough. DO you in fact agree with the roles described? Also, please look at my conceptualization of the strategist role I described to Prof Invernizzi in this same post, in the comment below yours and above this one. Do you agree and if not, with what do you not agree?

    I said in that comment that the scanning/mirror function, etc is the ‘inward’ communication role, based on ‘input’ in systems theory. I consider the PR technician role to be ‘output’, namely concerned with ‘outward’ communication. Are YOU talking about the ‘throughput’ in systems theory or the information ‘processing’ role of boundary spanning theory? That is, PR’s role once the information is brought into the organization (successfully). What happens to it, how and if it influences/changes top management/others. Actually, the important role here is to influence management/leadership to pay attention to the info and indeed to get them to adjust their behaviour/organizational strategies/world-views. Is this faintly what you mean?

  6. Toni:
    1. If you are thinking about Milton Friedman, the economist, who believed that ‘the business of business is business’ then I agree that he knew nothing of public relations. But the Freeman I referred to is a philosopher and strategic management scholar who advocated:
    • a stakeholder approach to strategic management in 1984.
    • that organizations develop ‘enterprise strategy’ which evolves around values, social issues and stakeholder expectations, while corporate strategy rests on an understanding of how the stakeholders can affect each business area of the firm (does anybody agree with his view on corporate strategy?).
    • that public relations be external affairs managers (together with public affairs), that they must present ‘the bigger picture’ and that the stakeholder concept requires a redefinition of the PR function. You must agree this was quite ‘forward looking’ in 1984 since many PR scholars and practitioners didn’t find that necessary at the time—and some don’t even today! Freeman thought that PR should bring the stakeholder and issues concepts together to add real value to the organization. (There are not too many strategic management scholars who mention this role for PR).

    2. It seems that your first three stakeholder groups more or less agree with the Grunig continuum of passive stakeholders who can be potential, aware or active publics when there is a problem (issue) in the relationship. ‘Opinion leaders’ originally was a marketing concept but I agree they are also important to PR. Your last category seems to be mostly stakeholders with an economic stake.

    3. With regards to the societal perspective, I think I place more store by the approach than you do. From a management perspective, to put it very simplistically, I regard society as the ‘most important’ stakeholder. (Betteke almost fainted when she heard me say this, and so will others of your learned European colleagues. But then, I am not an academic purist—having only come to academia fairly recently and being a practitioner at heart, I don’t know what I don’t know—I therefore take from each approach what I find useful to help me understand concepts and practice). I just have a feeling that the organization is starting to loose control and no longer has the ‘privilege to decide who it prefers to deal with’ any longer/in many instances. Even more so, the expectations and values of those unknown societal members are starting to have unprecedented influence on organisational strategies and decision making.

    Prof Invernizzi
    1. I think a Wiki is a very good idea to further the conversation.

    2. And to further our own conversation, I do not see it to be a contradiction in terms that, while the communication function is becoming more strategic, it is less based on so-called ‘communication’ activities. It is but the other side of the coin in boundary spanning theory.
    • I have conceptualised my role of the PR strategist as being based on the ‘mirror’ function of PR (the ‘reflective’ task) which simplistically put is to ‘listen’ and ‘reflect’ on behalf of the organization (the ‘out-side in’ approach to environmental scanning, the strategic ‘thinking’ in strategic management, the ‘information acquisition’ role of the boundary spanner, the ‘input’ in systems theory). This is INWARD communication.
    • The PR manager and technician fulfil the ‘window’ function (expressive task) of PR which means to ‘speak’ or ‘express’ on behalf of the organization — whether as spokesperson or in a media release or publication, it doesn’t matter. It is the same action of OUTWARD communication (the ‘inside out’ approach, the ‘planning and implementation’ of outward communication, the ‘information dissemination’ role of the boundary spanner, the ‘output’ in systems theory).

    3. So I guess one could say that the term ‘strategic communication management’ (discussed elsewhere), when viewed from the above perspectives, is then also not a paradox or a limiting concept for PR. While some on this blog said ‘communication is not all we do’, the term ‘strategic’ denotes the ‘outside in’ component of what we do while I think they mean with ‘communication’ the ‘inside out’ component.

    4. Can you or Toni or somebody please explain the exact meaning of the concept ‘disintermediation’ with regards to PR. (To me it means cutting out the middleman or the opposite, reintroducing the middleman to a transaction). Toni (and you)are using it all the time.

    Eric and Fraser, I will comment on your ideas tomorrow. This is turning into a book chapter again.

  7. To me, the legacy of Jim Grunig’s (et al) work is the us/them dichotomy. That is, we in PR/C like to talk about what we do to and with them. Them being stakeholders and publics (Benita got it right) and do to and with being a relationship, a communication, a behaviour change. We change them. (As Benita discussed, our language is issues MANAGEMENT, stakeholder MANAGEMENT.) But, Jim also talked about us. The concept of a different dominant coalition depending on the issue, action, etc. where there are also relationships, communication and behaviour change – influenced from the outside. They change us. Unfortunately, a role for PR/C hasn’t been thoroughly explored, by Jim or by others. This role is more than traditional roles such as listening in or environmental scanning (see the issues management literature of the 1970s), it is more than intelligence at decision-making time (see the abundant literature in PR about being at the table and contributing to strategic – deliberate – planning). It is more than internal comms being a contributor to organizational change management processes and programs. Surely it is more than MANAGING a relationship (and for the life of me, I don’t know how PR/C actually could ever manage a sustained relationship with any stakeholder or public group).

    In summary, if PR/C is ever to be truly institutionalized, I would think that we need to go further than we have in determining a role for PR/C regarding “they change us.”

  8. I am impressed by Toni’s energy and determination to move public relations into acceptance. However, it’s interesting that there still seems to be a need to further legitimize, by name of “institutionalize”, that what is practiced in so many forms, ways, shapes, levels, etc. I am concerned that the theoretical development of the field is trapped in an ever increasing self-assessment and valuation in an almost narcistic way. This description of the function is not that important, a bus-driver drives a bus, simple; what is of interest is the quality of the trip and if you reached your destination. I would argue that research needs to engage in a more critical understanding of the dynamics and mechanisms that help to achieve behavioural changes in individuals, groups and society at large. This should go beyond plain evaluations of successful behavioural change campaigns and try to focus on underlying principles that are more replicable in nature. Indeed, maybe this is an argument for a more emperical scientific approach towards body of knowledge development. I decided to use some provocative language as it is fundamentally known that this would result in some behavioural response, so I am looking forward to equally critical comments as to help the development of the essential body of knowledge.

  9. Toni, I agree with Benita when she says that your draft statement is not just a summary but an important improvement of the concept of institutionalization of pr/communication and opens new perspectives to our discussion.

    I have just a couple of comments and a proposal.
    The first comment is that you did capture, in a very simple but powerful way, the main content of the pr/communication function by saying that

    the public relations function -which in most well structured organizations has now become an autonomous managerial function reporting to the CEO or the Chair- be held directly responsible for relationships with a relevant selection of these stakeholder publics (core), while at the same time be assigned to counsel, facilitate and support other management functions in their relationships and communication activities with respective stakeholder publics (extended).

    This concept underlines the two main contents of the rp/communication function: the first being stakeholder relationship management, and mainly stakeholder relationship engagement that contributes directly to the fundamental activity of “nurturing” the organization. The second being the counseling and support of other organizational functions, that brings to understand and evaluate the communicational consequences of their decision processes.

    Secondly, it seems to me that looking at the institutionalization process as a “window of opportunity” represents an extremely useful approach for the Euprera congress, where scholars and practitioners meet, mainly because institutionalizing pr/communication is an ongoing process. The firm and organizational theory tell us that organizations need communication to be effective and successful, suggesting that insitutionalization of pr/communication is a very powerful process. However if , how and when it will happen, is very much in the hands of the professional community.

    Finally, I agree that disintermediation in pr/communication is a natural process intimately linked with its institutionalization. And the paradox, I don’t know if only apparent, is that while the communication function becomes more important, its relevance is (relatively) less based on communication activities. Since the strategic body of the pr/communication function grows bigger and more influential, its basic services become commodities that every organizational function/person can produce and deliver.

    The idea that an outcome of the congress be a final statement containing recommended guidelines “on how organizations should aproach the institutionalization process of their public relations management function” is very interesting.

    My proposal is to invite all congress participants to collaborate, during and for one week following its conclusions, to an ad hoc Wiki coordinated by a very small group of reputed scholars and professionals structured as a faq (the coordinating group defines the questions and the participants submit the answers until a consensus is reached).

    What do you think?

  10. Benita,
    what an interesting and stimulating comment, with so many suggestions and considerations that I wish to address immediately in order to clarify doubts and facilitate further discussion with you and (I hope..) also others.

    1. the stakeholder-publics issue:

    in my view there are at least five different publics with which an organization needs to relate with.

    – active stakeholders:
    (freeman was an economist and not a public relator and has no idea of what may be useful for us) are subjects who are aware of holding a stake in the organization, its objectives and activities.. and are therefore interested in a (adversarial or supportive) relationship with the organization. The latter does not decide who they are, rather it is the stakeholder who decides to be one.
    Of course the organization may well decide not to correspond to the stake…but at its own peril and risk.
    For me not all employees are active stakeholders, nor are many shareholders, nor most customers, nor many politicians, nor most journalists…..
    Only some are and it is vital for the organization to identify them;

    – potential stakeholders:
    these are subjects who -if made aware of the organization, its objectives and activities- are likely to realize they hold a stake and will want to have a (adversarial or supportive) relationship with the organization.
    In this case it is up to the organization to decide how, when and how to make these potential stakeholders aware so that they may turn into active stakeholders.
    For example, if I am in the process of testing a new product I may reach out push to some selected users and ask them to test the product. By accepting to do so they become active stakeholders.
    Or, if I have decided where to open my next plant and the local community does not yet know, its members are potential stakeholders.
    When I decide to tell them them some of them will become active (looking for a job, or wary of the environmental consequences…);

    – issue influencers:
    this is clearly where the issues management process stands out as paramount for any effective public relations exercise.
    Let me explain: the outcome of each single organizational objective is strongly influenced, besides by improved relationships with active and/or potential stakeholders, by the dynamics of economic, social, technological, political variables.
    I absolutely must decide which are the most relevant ones for me, analyse them (issue analysis) and select those subjects who are decisive in determining the direction those issue dynamics take.
    These influencers are of paramount importance.
    They are not necessarily aware nor interested in a relationship with me (therefore they are not active stakeholders) and they are not necessarily ready to open a relationship with me even if I inform them of my objectives and activities (not even potential stakeholders). ùIt is I, the organization, who identifies them and it is I who must create, develop and consolidate the relationship.. i.e. I must manage (or govern, as you prefer) the issue.
    Mind you, some of them might already have been included in the preceding groups but crtainly not all of them, and of course they are different issue by issue and objective by objective;

    – opinion leaders:
    I am not sure we are still allowed to use this term, but there are out there a number of subjects who we identify as being influential in forming opinions, behaviours, decisions and attitudes of our end publics (customers, citizens, users..). For example celebrities, community leaders, influential neighbours, proven effective multipliers, journalists…. These are not necessarily stakeholders, but they are definitely relevant for the organization, at least in their, still very important, potential third party endorsement capacity and, normally, it is us who make contact with them and try to develop a relationship;

    end users-
    normal customers, small shareholders, most employees, voters, service users…..

    You will of course appreciate that each one of these segments require in most instances radically different relationship approaches (push-pull, contents, tools, spaces…).

    So, to conclude on this issue, when I use the term stakeholder publics I tend to include all five of these segments which need to be considered and approached by the organization, albeit with different methods, contents, tools and spaces.

    the societal issue, also related to the who decides who the stakeholder is:

    I have already clarified the second part and repeat that the organization has the privilege to decide who it prefers to deal with, but if it carefully follows the scheme I have just described. it will be able to develop a more informed policy, also by recognizing the fact that active stakeholders are not decided by the organization.
    As for the societal issue your raise, Benita, I am afraid I do not get the point.
    If one takes, as I do, an organizational and systemic perspective of public relations rather than a societal one (as many of my colleagues prefer) this does not mean that an organization is isolated from society nor, to the contrary, that society means anything when not formed by organizations….
    Public relations activities are not perfomed in a laboratory and they are not so if they do not reflect a societal perspective.
    Is this not a classic ‘tempesta in un bicchier d’acqua’? (a storm in a glass of water, as we say).

    I of course agree on all other points you raise and renew my gratitude for your highly relevant contribution to the discussion and I hope you will want to continue.

  11. Toni: To quote one of my student’s elsewhere on PRC, I got “palpitations” when I read your draft statement because, to quote Estelle “You have taken the discussion on the institutionalisation of ‘public relations’ forward in quantum leaps”.

    Fully acknowledging that i) this draft reflects your own opinion and the discussion on PRC only, ii) BEFORE the conference even started, and iii) as such will still receive a lot of input from many other stakeholders and interest groups, I do find it important inter alia for the following reasons:

    • It embeds Cathy’s suggestions after the 5th World PR Festival in London for more discussion on a conference topic (with which I agree very much). A conference (be it practitioner or academic) should not be the ‘end all and be all’ but only the start of an important conversation, preferably culminating (or starting) with manifestos or policy or direction setting documents (or whatever the correct word may be, in this instance) after full consultation processes with all stakeholders and interest groups, of course.

    • It acknowledges the importance of social media such as a blog as i) a vehicle/channel for informal global discussion on an important topic and ii) a virtual meeting place/ space for practitioners, academics and students alike.

    • It provides a point of departure for further discussion at and after the Euprera Conference, in addition to papers delivered.

    I have a number of questions to you as well as comments on terminology used, and suggestions on how to possibly ‘modernise’ them. The importance of being on the same page re terms used was emphasised by Brian and Estelle during the institutionalisation discussion, as well as by Cathy in pointing out that some terms used imply old-time thinking—(and I add to this, not necessarily meant as such, but implied because of the connotation with their historical context. The problem is that when you use the more suitable modern term, many won’t know what you are talking about). Kristin also referred to the importance of conceptualising or describing key concepts to help us understand exactly what they mean.

    Furthermore, I also have comments on aspects that were NOT discussed on the blog, and therefore are not (yet) included in the draft statement (but may emerge at the conference) and possibly merit attention.

    • When you say ‘stakeholder publics’, my understanding is that you mean to include both concepts (i.e. stakeholders/publics) as alternative terms for the same phenomenon—‘stakeholders’ being the term used in the management domain and ‘publics’ being the term used in the PR domain? If so, I want to suggest that you pay consideration to the Grunigs’ differentiation in strategic PR/communication management between the two: ‘stakeholders’ being any group with a stake, but they could be passive. There is not necessarily a problem in the relationship with the organisation. However, when ‘public’ is used, it implies a problem or issue — which brings the whole field of issues management into play (a core function of PR that we hardly touched upon in our discussions and is not clearly portrayed in the draft) as well as the societal PR perspective — important inter alia to scholars in Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavia. (In my opinion, aspects of the latter should be added to stakeholder relationship management in order to make it inclusive and bring in societal interest/issue groups).

    • If PR wants to be forward looking, the term stakeholder relationship ‘management’ could be seen as an effort by the organisation to ‘influence’ the external environment (referring to a part of the definition of the boundary spanning role of ‘buffering’). In interviews on the Euprera website, the ‘bridging’ role was generally seen to be the normative vision for PR, defined in the strategic management literature as an organisation or function that “actively tries to meet and exceed regulatory requirements in its industry or that attempts to quickly identify changing social expectations in order to promote organizational conformance to those expectations”. If bridging is the preferred role for future PR, then stakeholder ‘engagement’ or even stakeholder relationship ‘governance’ might be a more suitable term than ‘management’.

    • The definition of ‘bridging’ above also places emphasis on the societal perspective of PR, which to me is represented by issues negotiation (management).

    • ‘Stakeholder identification’ denotes the organisation as being central, i.e. the organisation decides who the important stakeholders are. Freeman (1984), the father of the stakeholder concept, said that the latter should also be applied to an organisation’s publics and activists—those groups in the public sphere who normally have adversarial relationships with the organisation. Managers should be made to understood that they can no longer take into consideration only those stakeholders whom THEY think relevant, but also have to consider the expectations and values of those stakeholders that THEMSELVES think they have a stake in the organisation. The latter group is addressed (intercepted) by the concept of issues management (newer concept = issue negotiation) and the societal perspective to PR (rather than only stakeholder relationship management).

    • In view of the above, the statement in the draft that “an active, intense and continual program of monitoring and listening to the expectations of stakeholder publics on specific issues related to specific organizational objectives” again brings to me the question: Are you talking only about stakeholders/ publics or stakeholders and publics. If the former, then societal/issue/interest groups are excluded and the focus is only on organisational stakeholders, which is organisation-centric (and not forward looking!). Furthermore, the focus is on organisational objectives and not societal expectations, values, norms and standards.

    • Lastly, I think we should discuss further the statement ”…the function be empowered, following an inclusive internal bottom-up process, to counsel, assist and support other organizational functions in their respective stakeholder relationship policies and programs”. PR does not only support and assist other functions but also business units for example, as well as top management communication—which is a bottom down process. (But emerging issue and stakeholder identification should be a bottom up PR process). I know Cathy said that we should no longer follow “old school, hierarchical organisational models that rely on a few key influencers (otherwise known as the ‘C-suite’)” because flatter structure organisations will have more influencers. I agree, Cathy—but I don’t think that matrix organisations (at least in the next 5-10 years) are planning to do away with top management and the Board (because that is what you are implying if you say that a seat for PR at the Boardroom table is no longer important). Actually, I think it is now more important than ever. (Although the Board and top management teams might be leaner in future, if ever there was substantiation for ‘stakeholder managers’/PR being there, it is now).

    Quite a few of my fellow contributors agreed with Cathy after her comment in Toni’s institutionalisation post. I guess that what you agreed with most was that PR should no longer be “sitting tight and doing things as usual” and should “be ready to abandon certain paradigms and practices which no longer seem effective and, albeit critically, embrace new ones”. So let us see if you can put your money where your mouths are!!

    Toni, I know you are ‘otherwise engaged’ during the next few weeks. I don’t expect you to reply to these comments now. Maybe we can further discuss at some stage.

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