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How can public relations be a power for good in the world?

August 28, 2013

 

Anne Gregory, Global Alliance Chair

 

It started out with such optimism and promise, but I guess like you, I now view the way events are unrolling in Egypt and Syria with great sadness and some trepidation. This is not a political statement, but a human reaction to the suffering and disappointment that we see brought to us by all kinds of media day by day. I also feel I should have a response as a public relations professional. I am sure I am not alone in thinking that there is something that professional communicators could and should do to create spaces and places where dialogue can take place and where communities can be re-built.

 

 

Earlier this year the Global Alliance (GA) was contacted by one of our member associations asking if there was something we could do to help them contribute to national reconciliation in the wake of a highly divisive election. 

In my own country I am aware of the powerful and careful work public relations professionals in local government did to build forums for dialogue between the divided communities in Northern Ireland. They still do so.

 

The last newsletter included a piece from me about how I felt that the GA had reached a stage in its development where we could begin considering how we can make a difference in addressing some of the large challenges facing our world. There are so many, from climate change, to poverty, to water shortages, to issues of mass migration and integration.  Many have direct communication aspects such as the phenomenon of globalisation which is underpinned by the developments in digital technologies of which we are so aware.

 

The question for me is where do we start with all this? It is a daunting agenda. I have two thoughts as far as GA is concerned. The first is that we can do more to inform members of some of the global issues that are facing the world and the latest thinking about them.  We could also provide more opportunities for the global public relations community to debate, discuss and then take action on some of them.  The GA does have non-observer status with the United Nations and at the Stockholm World Public Relations Forum in 2010, Klaus Schwab, Chair of the World Economic Forum spoke with passion about the challenges and issues facing our world. (For World Economic Forum’s latest report on Global Risks see http://reports.weforum.org/global-risks-2013/.) He also spoke of the critical importance of our role as communication professionals in helping to develop a broader understanding of these challenges, creating forums for discussion and connecting people. Schwab’s view is that it is only by ‘togetherness’, that is us all coming together to play a part in addressing these issues, that the world can begin to address the problems and opportunities it faces. We should do more to develop our connections work with organisations like the UN and WEF and we will.

 

Second, it’s up to us as individuals to be well-informed about these matters. As we know in our day to day work for organisations, context is so important. The broader context in which organisations and nations work is just as important since this will, if not immediately, impact on our work on the near future. Changes in societal trends, political thinking, and economic imperatives affect us all. In my ‘day job’ it’s my privilege to work with some very large organisations and to challenge senior executives, including Directors of Public Relations/Communication on what they know about the ‘big issues’. It is amazing and worrying to find out how few have a systematic process for considering these issues and what the organisational response should be, despite knowing that they are held to account in ways and by groups that were never imagined just 10 years ago. For me it is obvious that the public relations professional should be the knowledge-source and the facilitator of action around these challenges.

 

I would welcome your views on how you think Global Alliance should move forwards with this agenda. What is our role as professionals in society? How can we be a force for good in the world? What are the things we should focus on? Please do tell me.