As PR professionals we should celebrate the G20 meeting this week in London as an opportunity to demonstrate what public relations is all about.
Essentially, this “informal forum” seeks to promote “open and constructive discussion between industrial and emerging-market countries on key issues related to global economic stability”. This would seem to reflect an approach to building relationships and two-way symmetric communications.
At the core of G20, we have 20 global leaders holding one-to-one meetings, which clearly reflects the personal influence model of public relations (see Kristin M Johnson‘s excellent paper via the Institute for Public Relations).
The summit also provides an opportunity for the more traditional publicity approach to PR as global leaders seek to convey carefully crafted images via the world’s media.
On the streets, dozens of groups and thousands of individuals will protest and seek to have their voices heard. This supports the argument that the true potential of PR requires openness and democratic principles as Vercic espouses, and also demonstrates activism in action. Indeed, we can apply Grunig’s situational theory in the way that people are motivated to become aware and active publics.
I find it interesting to reflect on these matters after reading Dave Fleet’s post: “Public relations is not a right“. It is somewhat ironic that in countries where there is little freedom of expression, such as Zimbabwe, the only voices being publicly heard are those who could be deemed as unworthy of a “right” to PR representation.
For me, the simple fact that organisations, groups and individuals are able to express different viewpoints (some of which might be considered by some people as unethical) is what enables PR to exist.
One person’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist and the same can be considered true in PR. Your persuasive message might be considered as propaganda by others.
Of course, those with power will find it easiest to be heard – the professional public relations expertise and might of the global leaders guarantees them headlines and access to other influential channels, such as the personal meetings.
But because the UK is a democratic, pluralistic society, it is also possible for those with less “right” to communicate their message. They will also use the techniques of PR to be heard although but few are using professional PR representation to do this.
To an extent, the protestors are restricted to a press agentry model of PR, although alliances and co-orientation will be evident in the planning and outcomes of today’s actions.
Modern society is based on the idea that multiple competing opinions are able to affect public policy and public behaviour through discussion, negotiation and compromise.
That is why it is important that public relations can stimulate discussion around issues but also, why we need to allow the opinions of others to be heard, even if we don’t like what they are saying.
I believe that as professional PR practitioners we should support what Voltaire is attributed as saying: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
I doubt the legacy of the G20 summit will be any more momentous than enabling a cacophony of opinions to be expressed and a range of voices to be heard – which perhaps sums up what PR is all about.