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From the Chair: Public relations in the age of dialogue

March 26, 2012


Sunil John, conference chair; Faisal Al-Zahrani, President, IPRA Gulf Chapter; Daniel Tisch, meet at the IPRA Gulf Chapter conference in Dubai, UAE

Earlier this month in Dubai, I spoke at an outstanding conference organized by the International Public Relations Association’s Gulf Chapter.


The location carried considerable symbolism: a great global city, in a region at an extraordinary crossroads between tradition and modernity, hosting a dialogue about a profession undergoing a similarly profound transition.


This change is not limited to the public relations or communication profession. It pervades almost every organization and society – autocratic or democratic -- as we adapt to an age in which both internal and external publics have unprecedented access to communication and therefore wield new influence and power. 


It’s as true on the Arab Street as it is on Wall Street. Hence the theme of the conference: ‘PR in the age of dialogue.


How is the role of public relations changing?


The Global Alliance’s recent survey of almost 300 leaders of the world’s major PR industry associations provides some insights. It revealed that these leaders see three transformational opportunities for public relations today:


  1. Defining organizational character. If reputation is an absolute measure of how others judge an organization, an authentic and aspirational effort to define its ‘DNA’ or core  character and ways of doing things might be the organization’s way of influencing the factors that build that reputation. Communicators can play a critical role in defining, maintaining, assessing and sustaining an organization’s DNA or core character.


  1. Creating a culture of listening and engagement. The widespread use of digital networks makes communication a richer and yet riskier process than ever before. But today’s tools are only a means to an end: that of embedding a culture of listening and engagement not just in the communications department, but across the organization. Communicators must therefore develop and deploy this culture for the benefit of both the organization and its stakeholders.


  1. Understanding personal, organizational and professional responsibility. Individuals, organizations and professions bear responsibilities to society – bringing ethical and sustainability considerations into the decisions and actions we undertake every day. Understanding responsibility is the first step to gaining credibility. As communicators, we must consider the nature of a communicator’s responsibility today. Which processes can ensure a coherent, yet sustainable, balance of the three spheres?


These roles are critical to the elevation of organizational communication from the popular perception that it’s about ‘spin’ and ‘feel-good’ benefits rather than a discipline that prizes transparency, authenticity and measurable contributions of value to organizations and to society.


The Global Alliance will debate and develop these three themes over the course of the year, culminating in a bold attempt to define a fresh ‘mandate’ for public relations in society at the World Public Relations Forum in Australia from November 17-20, 2012.


It’s a debate worth watching, and a dialogue worth joining. This is not only because communication is changing, but also because our organizations and our world are changing as a consequence.



Daniel Tisch APR, Fellow CPRS

Global Alliance Chair