The great, the good, the high in the brow and long in the chin have been gathering in Sweden at the World Public Relations Forum where they have produced a “call to action” for what they call Public Relations Professionals.
It is a rallying call for the global PR community to commit to work to some code of practice. The aim is to “administer its principles on a sustained basis and to affirm them throughout the profession, as well as to management and other relevant stakeholder groups”.
In short, those who have gathered have created a model suggesting that if we coordinate all communication, then we have a sound basis for management, the basis for communicating internally, which gives us the basis for communicating externally which then provides the basis for governance and social responsibility. They also suggest that by doing all of these things correctly, we will achieve organizational sustainability. In short, public relations, through holistic stakeholder management, can ensure that organizations adapt and endure, largely through listening and responding.
Interestingly, the Accords give prominence to internal communication and communication from the inside out and outside in. Surprisingly perhaps, 2 of the 6 Accords are about Internal Communication.
Now I’ve been a longstanding critic of what I have referred to as a plague of short termism within organizations. This recent organization culture phenomenon has, in my view, adversely affected organizations by creating a boom and bust approach to management introduced under the sheep’s clothing of “creating a performance culture”. In my view, short termism is not only suspect in performance terms but undermines relationship management; open and authentic communication and threatens sustainability. I believe the recent financial services crash is a case in point. (Buckingham; Ten Step Recovery plan for Financial Services Brands).
I ‘m likely to support anything which has the vision of sustainability at its core and the song of authenticity in its heart. I applaud any initiative that looks to bring the communication and engagement disciplines closer together to reverse the negative perceptions associating PR with the 90s phenomenon of spin and lack of authenticity. I’m likely to celebrate anything that raises the profile of the power of joined up communication in the interests of developing organizations fit for the medium- to- long- term purpose; it surely must be a good thing.
But from an employee engagement perspective, I’m less than comfortable with the PR industry attempting to define the core tenets of internal communication as if they have just invented the notion. It troubles me that there is also little recognition of the difference between internal and external stakeholders or the need to forge close links between channel management; organization development; behaviour change and culture development.
While the intentions, based on joined up thinking and sustainability, are laudible, the process of generating the Accords has a distinctly high brow and somewhat dusty feel. That’s surprising for something coming from the Scandinavians – begetters of radical social sciences, unisex saunas and Bjork.
The Definitions stemming from the Accords are a deal more professorial than punk. And I have to wonder about the relevance of the Accords to the “here we are now, entertain us” generations of internal customers and employees demanding authentic, engaging communication in tune with the fast paced rhythms and challenges of our age.
But I’m keen to maintain an open mind. Rather than marginalize or even ignore what’s coming out of Stockholm, shouldn’t we be drawing together to develop a multi-disciplinary version? Rather than simply modifying a PR model, I suggest we should cast our arms wider, take in HR; Marketing and key decision makers and embrace the engagement disciplines, potentially placing brand development; organization development; authenticity; culture management and sustainability at the core of the debate.
So here’s to the Accords.