Public relations: A key to every organisation’s legitimacy in 2013
A new year always begins with prognostications — and many forecasters agree that this is an age in which public relations can lead like never before. The reason: As communication power shifts from organisations to audiences, PR is essential not just to reputation, but to an organisation’s very legitimacy.
We all know the stakes: As consumers or citizens, we can make or break corporate reputations; we can build up governments or bring them down; we can start social movements in a moment and spread love or hate, truth or lies, hope or fear, peace or violence, clarity or ambiguity.
The advent of near-universal access to global publishing power is changing our publics‘ expectations, and their influence. So organizations need a new kind of legitimacy – one earned through ongoing communication.
The Global Alliance’s new ‘Melbourne Mandate’ – adopted at the World Public Relations Forum in Australia in November 2012 – gives our profession the opportunity to lead in three critical areas:
The definition of organizational character and values;
The building of a culture of listening and engagement — not just centered in the PR department, but dispersed across the organization; and
The instilling and demonstration of responsibility in all its dimensions — organizational, societal, personal and professional.
How will smart, communicative organizations seize the opportunity to lead in 2013?
First, wise organizations will see that these three PR roles are as interconnected as love and marriage. An organization must understand its own character and responsibility in order to engage others meaningfully and authentically. When we focus on all three roles simultaneously, it’s easier for PR to move from a supporting role to a truly strategic one — and for the organization to lower risk and enhance return from its communication.
Second, we’ll continue to see a gradual change in the tone and context of organizational communication. In tone, it’s a shift from the bold exaggerations, superlatives and unsubstantiated claims to an approach that’s more authentic and realistic — promoting benefits while addressing challenges — all without sacrificing communication clarity, simplicity or power. In context, it’s a shift in strategy from one-way broadcasting to multilateral dialogue where our messages are the beginning of a conversation, not the end.
Third, we’ll see the sharpest leaders shift their thinking from control to influence — with coaching from PR professionals. Business schools have given generations of executives an understandable obsession with control — an approach that no longer works in an age of strong stakeholders and empowered audiences. The new imperative is influence. To coach CEOs to adapt, public relations professionals need to ‘skill-up’ to be literate in the language of business and public policy.
Finally, we’ll see farsighted organizations move toward integrated reporting — the presentation of an organization’s strategy, governance, performance and prospects within its full commercial, social and environmental context. This trend is an evolution of both financial and sustainability reporting that aims to give both shareholders and stakeholders a truer picture of how the organization creates value over time. In 2013, the International Integrated Reporting Council will release a new framework for these corporate reports of the future – and the Global Alliance is proud to be at that table.
The GA has an ambitious work plan for 2013 – one that involves collaborative international research, new standards in measurement, evaluation and reporting, the strengthening of our global professional community, and – of course – using the Melbourne Mandate as a platform to advocate the role and value of PR.
We hope that in a small way, we can help strengthen the leadership role of public relations in organizations – and in society – in 2013 and beyond. Thank you for your interest in our work – and our global mission.
Daniel Tisch, APR, Fellow CPRS
Chair, Global Alliance