World PR Forum calls for public relations to reach for higher purpose

World PR Forum calls for public relations to reach for higher purpose

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Professor Anne Gregory kicked off the Global Alliance World PR Forum in Madrid today with a blunt speech. "I'm a worried woman, a very worried woman. [...] Flawed leadership all around us is polluting the atmosphere and society itself. The result is a huge breakdown in trust,” she said.

Prof. Gregory cited examples of flawed leadership and a breakdown in trust in politics, media, business and leadership.

A fresh corporate scandal broke in the UK hours after Prof. Gregory's speech. Supermarket Tesco announced that is has cut its profit forecast, for a a third time, by £250 million and suspended four members of staff.

She called on public relations to respond to its higher purpose as the ears, eyes and consciousness of an organisation. Society itself is the most important stakeholder for public relations.

“Leadership is communications. Physical and financial assets represent 20% of the value of companies with the balance accounting for trust and reputation,” said Gregory.

This data is from the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC), a global coalition of regulators, investors, companies, standard setters, the accounting profession and NGOs.

Reaching for a higher purpose

But instead of embracing this opportunity the public relations profession remains obsessed with tactics. That’s not to say that tactics don’t have a role within public relations but it misses our higher purpose according to Prof. Gregory.

Public relations must stop thinking as a trade and assert its role as a management discipline.

“We send out stuff. Our expertise is sought to help develop messages and an [organisational] narrative and to help organisations tell their story. Our message to business leaders should be that your narrative is your business,” said Prof. Gregory.

Herein lies the biggest issue. Yes we have a tremendous opportunity to assert our value to management but we can’t do that until we ourselves become a management discipline.

Focus on professionalism at the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR)

My personal purpose at the CIPR this year has been to focus the organisation and members on this issue.

We’ve got back to basics and focused the organisation on its vision outlined in the (opens as a PDF) Royal Charter that we received from the Privy Council in 2005.

The CIPR’s purpose is to promote the highest level of professionalism in public relations through skills, knowledge, and research. It exists to serve the public interest and advance the expertise of our members.

We need to develop the profession along five strands: standard and qualifications, a commitment to continuing professional development, a Code of Conduct that can be publicly tested, a professional memory, and a community of practice enabling an interchange between academia and practice.

The aspiration and vision set out by Prof. Gregory is inspirational. We've never had such an incredible opportunity but there’s a lot to do. She’s right to be a worried woman.

World PR Forum

700 professional communicators have gathered at Palacio Municipal de Congresos in Madrid, Spain for the Global Alliance World Public Relations Forum.

The event is taking place over the next 48 hours.  There’s a very active hashtag #WPRF2014 on Twitter.

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