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The Melbourne Mandate: A professional beacon for PR

September 4, 2013


By Jean Valin, APR, FCPRS and Daniel Tisch, APR, FCPRS


The last few years have witnessed a variety of successful global efforts to build consensus amongst public relations professionals and academics on the profession’s role and value to organizations, as well as to society.


The most recent process, the Melbourne Mandate, was co-created by some 1,000 people from 30 countries over the course of a year, and then unanimously adopted in November 2012 by more than 800 delegates at the World Public Relations Forum in Australia.


As leaders of the Melbourne Mandate process, we believe the dialogue must now shift from inside the profession to outside. The key is to use the Melbourne Mandate—and other compelling content on the characteristics of a communicative organization and the role and value of PR—to enable courageous conversations within organizations, between organizations and stakeholders, as well as with professionals from other disciplines.



The Melbourne Mandate journey


First, some background on the Melbourne Mandate. The project was conceived in late 2011 by the chair and the board of the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management (GA), which aimed to articulate a new global mandate for public relations.


Why? Our working assumption was that the characteristics of a communicative organization—and the roles, responsibilities and value of PR professionals—were evolving rapidly in a world where audiences and stakeholders have unprecedented communications access and power. Collectively, we believed that fresh answers to these questions could produce a powerful advocacy platform for professionals everywhere.


We also hoped to build on the GA’s 2010 Stockholm Accords, which identified the role and value of PR in governance, management, sustainability and internal and external communication. The Stockholm Accords are now embedded in many respected public relations curricula around the world.



First steps: The process and the themes


First steps included establishing clear process values for this co-creation exercise:

  • we wanted it to be transparent at every stage, even if this meant it was “messy” at times
  • we aimed to hear diverse voices from across the spectrum of practice and academia, and from all over the world; and
  • we recognized that leadership would be needed to frame the debate at the front end, create an abstract and discussion papers in the middle and then tie together the different strands in a coherent document in the end

The process was crowd-sourced, rather than crowd-based. The views of the profession’s elite would be sought, but would not dominate the discussion.


The Mandate first took shape with the results of a global survey of association leaders, followed by a brief that posited three areas of emerging value for public relations and communication management:

  1. Leading the definition of an organization’s character and values.
  2. Building a culture of listening and engagement.
  3. Instilling responsible behaviours in professionals and organizations.


Middle steps: Building the global dialogue


Working groups were formed and leaders assigned with the objective of posting and debating comments and draft text in a blog open to all.


Webinars and conference calls took place to shape the document in two rounds of drafting, with commenting periods in advance of the World Public Relations Forum (WPRF) in Melbourne.


On site at the WPRF, we populated a mobile application that all 800 delegates could use to provide feedback, as well as a plenary session where physical comment cards circulated while the room worked on the draft texts. More than 400 comments and suggestions were received through the app or comment cards.


World PR Forum: The destination


Our small editorial group worked to analyze the feedback overnight, and presented a modified final draft thatearned the delegates’ unanimous endorsement on the WPRF’s final day.


Today the Mandate is seen as one of the GA’s top achievements. It has already been translated into French, Spanish, Italian and Indonesian, and other translations are in progress.


More importantly, however, we hope the Melbourne Mandate can be a professional beacon for every public relations/communication professional who aspires to a leadership role in helping his or her organization achieve its objectives—both by using it to lead conversations and to guide one’s own career path.



How can I use it?


A legitimate criticism of these sorts of processes is that they sometimes become ends in themselves: manifestos that add to the profession’s body of knowledge but offer little practical application to professionals in their day-to-day work.


That is why today’s leaders of the Global Alliance are developing tools to answer a critical question: How can I use it?


You will find a starting point in Daniel Tisch’s recent article, Eight ways you can use the Global Alliance’s Melbourne Mandate. The argument is that professionals can use the Mandate as:

  • a point of professional reference
  • a summary of some best practices in modern PR
  • a set of aspirations for their organizations
  • a guide to conversations across disciplines and with managers, executives and boards; and
  • a checklist for their own professional development





The Global Alliance has developed a toolkit that includes:

  1. The Melbourne Mandate’s Integrity Index, a tool designed to measure whether an organization lives up to its stated values in the minds of its internal and external stakeholders—with a view to minding the gap between these inside and outside perceptions.
  2. A series of case studies into ethical and responsible communication.
  3. Examples of multinational companies that have embedded elements of the Mandate in their communication vision and strategy.


One tool that we are debuting on PR Conversations is the Melbourne Mandate Professional Development Wheel, a guide to the skills professionals need in order to practise to the full scope of the Mandate.



Why does it matter?


Jose Manuel Velasco, current president of Dircom, the Spanish Association of Communication Directors (which will host the 2014 World Public Relations Forum in Madrid, September 21-23, 2014) believes that public relations has come of age with the Melbourne Mandate.

In a recent GA newsletter, Velasco wrote that we need to work on improving our level of conscience and consciousness about communication—developing and listening more often to our own inner voice:

Firstly, we must listen to our own inner voice with a view to stepping outside the comfort zone in which we have settled after reaching positions of importance within the organization, although we must continue to defend the strategic value of our function. Our role of assisting the chief executive officer (CEO) on intangible issues and interacting with the leading executives of the organization’s various departments empowers us to go beyond tactical tasks and contribute to refocusing the corporate vision.


Secondly, we must work on the conscience of our co-workers, giving them reasons to contribute to the collective story of the organization through their professional performance. We must provide them with values, role models, background and targets, as well as feedback from stakeholder engagement. Every person must feel that his or her story forms part of the company’s history. The greater a person’s responsibility, the greater the footprint she will leave behind.”



Moving the Mandate forward


We hope that the combination of the Melbourne Mandate’s content, tools and legitimacy will help public relations professionals advance their standing—and that of our global profession.


In a globally connected world with significant and diverse views of our profession, the very idea of a unified global advocacy platform is ambitious.


Judging from the reactions from our international professional community, however, the Melbourne Mandate appears to resonate widely, inspiring many to elevate their standing and that of the profession and find their voice at the management table.


In doing so, the Melbourne Mandate can be a beacon to guide us where we need to be.


The Mandate also helps those who are beginning their careers by mapping out a professional development path. For our profession to truly come of age and for each of us to achieve his or her own potential, we must consider the Melbourne Mandate’s themes—character, listening and responsibility—and make them our own.


We leave you with two questions:

First, are you practising to the full scope of the Melbourne Mandate?

Second, how can you use it to benefit your practice, your organization and your profession?


We will listen and respond to any answers in the comments section.


Readers may also wish to listen to a For Immediate Release #718 interview with Jean Valin and Dan Tisch on the Melbourne Mandate.


Source: PR Conversations