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The Melbourne Mandate and the Changing Role of PR

By: Guest | November 6, 2012 | 
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Today’s guest post is by Daniel Tisch.

In a world where citizens, consumers, shareholders, and stakeholders walk around with global publishing power in their pockets, how does the role of public relations change – and what is the profession’s value to organizations, and to society?

That’s a question each of us needs to think about as we serve our organizations and clients.

And it’s one being tackled by the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management in a process called the Melbourne Mandate, named for the site of the upcoming Seventh World Public Relations Forum.

The GA’s members – the world’s major PR and communications professional associations – are defining and exploring three critical roles for PR: The definition of organizational character and values; the building of a culture of listening and engagement; and the fulfillment of responsibility in all its dimensions – personal, professional, corporate, and societal.

While these roles are not new, they take new shape and urgency thanks to several interconnected trends:

  • An unprecedented shift in communication power from organizations to their audiences, thanks to the mass access to information and social networks;
  • Changes in our expectations of corporations, governments, and institutions, particularly following the global financial crisis and its economic, fiscal, and social consequences;
  • Advances in corporate governance and reporting, and the shared desire of investors and stakeholders alike for a more integrated view of an organization’s strategy, operations and performance – one that integrates both financial and non-financial measures;
  • Steady rise of intangibles such as reputation and brand in an organization’s valuation; and
  • Growing conviction among leaders that strong stakeholder relationships – built on strong communication – can both lower risk and maximize opportunity.

Following a global survey of its members and four months of online collaboration between practitioners and academics around the world, the GA released the draft text of the Melbourne Mandate for public comment.

It reflects various arguments:

  • An organization’s character (as distinct from its reputation, is defined by others) consists of three critical strands: Values, leadership, and culture. PR’s role is not only to help define an organization’s character and values, but also to protect these assets by communicating authentically and ensuring stated values actually guide the organization’s decisions and actions.
  • Listening is critical to both managing risk and seizing opportunity. It depends on having the right research methodologies in place, and involving both employees and external stakeholders in a two-way engagement process. Truly effective listening and engagement imply a duty to communicate sound reasons to stakeholders when their expectations cannot be met.
  • Responsibility starts with an understanding that an organization’s very license to operate depends on the value it creates for all stakeholders, and for society at large. It’s also a delicate balancing act, because each of us has both personal and professional responsibilities, and responsibilities to our organizations and to society at large. This is a rich topic with many complex dimensions, including ethics, transparency, accountability, sustainability, and continuous learning.

The Melbourne Mandate builds on the Global Alliance’s 2010 advocacy platform, the Stockholm Accords, which defined the attributes of the ‘communicative organization’ and the value of PR in governance, management, sustainability and internal and external communication.

After the Melbourne Mandate is debated by delegates to the World Public Relations Forum on November 19 and 20, the GA aims for it to be a tool professionals around the world can use to advocate the role of public relations and communication in their organizations and communities.

It’s clear communication is changing the world – and transforming public expectations of organizations.

Does public relations need a new mandate as a result? That’s a question worth answering – and a debate worth having.

Daniel Tisch, APR, Fellow CPRS (@DanTisch) is CEO of Toronto-based Argyle Communications and chair of the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management. He writes about global PR issues on his blog, Reputation and Reality.

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