In a recent exchange on this here blog Catherine Arrow wrote:
… Somebody, somewhere has to hit the coalface first, and… (this) is the job of associations, so their members can chip away and follow through with the leadership, back up and support of the big guys….. our current situation has been apparent and evident for some time …. and … no preventative action has been taken.…..So, perhaps…… there should be a recognition and admission that we have previously got things wrong….,
and David Phillips weighed in:
…Public Relations has to re-think its foundations…… I … am frustrated by the PR institutions…associations have almost conspired to keep members in the dark about the fundamental changes that are affecting the PR sector and the Universities are culpable in their use of academic brains to count fairies on pinheads while the Universe is caving in on their students and practitioners alike…..
From this one might expect that the PR institutions (associations, institutes and academia) might be working hard at where the profession is going. They might be showing leadership. They may be examining how to re-energise this profession…..
In many other posts since the inception of this blog, professional associations have been criticised for failing to appropriately listen to their stakeholders (their members first of all, but also the business, financial, political, media, academic and activist communities) and effectively and proactively reach out to argue the true value of a profession which is today more than ever strongly relevant to every single organizational management paradigm, while at the same time (and mostly for the same reason) increasingly demonised because of its growing impact on opinions and behaviours of publics and its parallel resistance to accountability, responsibility and transparency standards adopted by other professions and management functions.
And this, we often argued, is one (if not the) principal reason why, unlike other professions (regulated or not), only 10% of currently active normally professionals belong to these bodies.
I have certainly not changed my mind and have been often challenged to offer ideas, processes and programs which might improve this situation.
I have tried.
For example, I have argued and suggested that the regulatory issue be carefully analysed and become a central concern for associations, not only to anticipate from an acceptable platform what by many is considered an inevitable, and for many reasons desirable, outcome; but also to avoid the present ongoing and unmonitored regulation of specific pr practices in various parts of the world with no harmonization, thus making it increasingly difficult for organizations as well as for professionals to practice public relations with coherent processes.
Others have also convincingly argued that professional associations ( i.e. the Global Alliance, in unison with its members), take on a leadership function in a global outreach to stakeholders program (some define this as public relations for public relations).
Clearly we have not been particularly successful in these efforts so far, as associations seem to be focussing their primary attention on self protection and survival, which is a typical syndrome of every organized body at any time, but that association leaderships should carefully refrain from encouraging, particularly in this prolonged period of re conceptualization of organizational functions and paradigms which leave so much room for public relations to initiate and lead the discussion.
So I will now try a different approach, the best practice one.
Yes, this post is dedicated to the Swedish Public Relations Society who will host the next World Public Relations Festival in June 2010.
Let us begin by saying that Sweden has 8 million inhabitants and that the association has 5 thousand members.
If one compares this to the UK with 60 million inhabitants and 9 thousand members; or to the USA with 350 million inhabitants and 30 thousand members (including students)… one immediately perceives that the membership ratio pro inhabitant in Sweden is anywhere from 5 to 10 times higher than in those two countries whose associations are universally recognised as global leaders in the field.
Wait a minunte!
Is there a law in Sweden (like in other countries such as Brasil, Nigeria, Perù, Panama, Venezuela and more recently Puerto Rico) which obliges public relators to belong to the national association?
Nothing of the kind.
Is the structure of society in Sweden so radically different from other countries to justify that any professional public relator jump on the association bandwagon?
Not at all.
Is the trend ‘to belong’ in general in Sweden much higher than in other countries?
Do Swedish public relators enjoy much more than their counterparts to network, socialise or exchange parctices?
Again, definitely not.
Are membership access and fees simpler and cheaper than other associations?
No, they are not.
Is there much less competition in Sweden from other communications associations.
The only possible answer is that public relations professionals in Sweden are attracted and feel they need to belong to their national association because they receive value. I cannot think of any other reasonable answer.
Margaretha Sjoberg, the organizational monument of the association, roughly estimates that there are some 15 thousand public relators in Sweden.
If one accepts this figure (which, comparatively speaking would put the UK figure of public relators at 100 thousand, with a membership ratio at 10%; while the USA figure would be 500 thousand, i.e. a membership ratio of 6%), then her membership ratio would be at more than 14%.
Before going into some specifics let me direct you to the association website here
Presuming you do not read Swedish, I suggest you now link here to the English language version here which is clearly more concise than the former, but at least better understandable.
You will find many interesting things to peruse:
° the most fascinating one is the Business Effective Communication program which has now been going on for five years and has produced a series of excellent and innovative papers, translated in the English language, which you may download and peruse.
I am not aware of any other academic or professional project anywhere else in the world which has so specifically dwelt on the public relations function in its more managerial and strategic aspects;
° a highly interesting one is the Communication Index program which regularly scans the Swedish marketplace and, being performed with the same methodology, allows anyone to clearly understand the trends from year to year;
° also take a good look at the Communication Executives Program and at the Communication Mentoring Program. Truly innovative and engaging.
Finally, in a presentation Margaretha delivered last Saturday to the GA Board Meeting now established in the new Global Alliance Centre in the University of Lugano, she outlined a draft concept for the 2010 World Public Relations Festival, to be held Stockholm on June 14/15 which reads:
Communicative organizations – in pursuit of a new paradigm
A communicative organization is one where everyone is convinced of the added value of effective communication and its important role in relation to competition; where decision processes take communicative efforts into account; where an increasing number of employees improve their communication skills; ehre our members provide key competence.
So all our pessimism is ill founded?
It would be if our Swedish colleagues were quickly to become a benchmark reference for all public relations associations.