Advocacy Thought Leadership

#PRin2013: PR to give organizations a new legitimacy

Editor’s note: This is the 7th in a series of 12 guest posts from industry thought leaders predicting key trends that will impact the public relations industry in 2013. Hosted under the hashtag #PRin2013, the series began Jan. 7, 2013, with a compilation post previewing some of the predictions.


A gradual change in PR’s mandate, tone & role — from control to influence

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 organizations to audiences, PR is essential not just to reputation, but to an organization’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 urgently need a new kind of legitimacyone earned through ongoing communication.

In a year-long program of dialogue among leaders of the world’s major public relations associations in 2012, the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management achieved consensus on three emerging roles for our profession in 2013:

  • Leading the definition of organizational character and values;
  • Building a culture of listening and engagement — not just centered in the PR department, but dispersed across the organization; and
  • Instilling and demonstrating responsibility in all its dimensions — organizational, societal, personal and professional.

These roles — each cited in the ‘Melbourne Mandate’ adopted at the 2012 World Public Relations Forum in Australia — provide the PR profession with an opportunity to lead.

How will smart, communicative organizations seize the opportunity to lead in 2013? Here are four ideas.

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 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 often associated with marketing-driven PR 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 CEOs shift their thinking from control to influence — with coaching from PR professionals. Business schools have trained generations of executives to be ‘control freaks’ — an approach that no longer works in an age of strong stakeholders and empowered audiences. The new imperative is influence, not control. 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. If you haven’t followed this movement yet, you should; it’s an opportunity for your organization (or client) to be a communication leader.

There’s lots of turbulence ahead in 2013 — a product of an era in which economic power is more concentrated while communication power is more diffuse. Nonetheless, intelligent organizations advised by skilled public relations professionals will enjoy not just a new edge — but also new legitimacy.

Daniel Tisch, APR, Fellow CPRS, is Chair of the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management. He is based in Toronto as CEO of Argyle Communications, and is a Fellow of the Canadian Public Relations Society. He also represents the global PR profession on the International Integrated Working Council’s Working Group developing a new framework for corporate reporting.

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