Speak up…if you have something to say
Anne Gregory, Global Alliance Chair
I’m writing this article for the GA Newsletter on the eve of Eid Al-Fitr, the fast-breaking ceremony which marks the end of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of self-denial. The ceremony of Eid promotes love and brotherhood and the resumption of normal everyday life.
While writing this I also reflect that love, brotherhood and a normal life are singularly lacking in Palestine, Syria, Ukraine and indeed in many countries around the world. I’m also forced to consider what our profession of public relations can do about this and confess to a feeling of frustration.
We claim to be a major force for good in the world and indeed there are some amazing instances where public relations has served peace well. One is very near to home for me, where I know of the tireless work of public relations professionals in local councils in Northern Ireland who created places and spaces where communities could come together
to talk through their differences and find ways forward to end the dreadful religious and culturally-based conflict there. I also recognise the numerous campaigns done free of charge for charities and just causes by individual practitioners, companies and consultancies. However, we would all have to admit that the vast majority of our work is done for organisations, not ‘society’. We would also have to admit that much of that work is promoting products and services rather than holding ourselves and senior managers to account for behaviour that does not serve the public interest.
It’s my absolute conviction that we must do more to serve society and it is because most of us work for organisations that my optimism returns. Organisations are now a, possibly the, driving force in the world. Some of the largest like Google, China Construction Bank, Pfizer, Coca Cola and ArcelorMittal are several times bigger than many national economies. National Governments bend their policies to accommodate them. Yet, according to the World Economic Forum, one of the largest issues facing the world today is the lack of good leadership. In companies and in governments people are losing faith in leaders. And why is this? Because people see self-interest, the lack of morality in decision-making and the determination to pursue organisational interests at all costs. This picks away at trust and corrodes the very fabric of society.
So the challenge to us as practitioners, who by our own declaration claim to be the ethical guardians of our organisations, is to up our game. We need to educate ourselves to the highest level so we can argue the case for our organisations having a moral as well as an economic purpose, for the value of living by values, and against purely organisational self-interest which always comes at a price for others.
We also need to come to a view on what it means for us to show leadership in our organisations. If we are going to serve society (which by most codes of ethics in our Associations is our PRIMARY duty), as well as our organisations we need to honestly confront the challenges and contradictions that poses for us. It means that we have to become deeply involved in conversations about the purpose and role of our organisation and on what basis it makes decisions. And for our organisations there is an opportunity to be leaders because being a truly communicative organisation in touch with stakeholders and society is transformative.
At the World Public Relations Forum in Madrid in September 2014 we will be discussing the global discussions the member associations of the Global Alliance have been holding on leadership in the run up to the Forum discussions. Please do get involved, the time is right for our profession to speak up and make a difference, but to do that we must have something game-changing to say.
Global Alliance Chair