Process

The first thoughts for this effort went to some of the more recent developments supplied by the global body of knowledge.

a-

Prof. Mervyn King -a South African corporate lawyer turned Supreme Court Justice, corporate governance counsel to the World Bank and the United Nations, Professor at the University of Pretoria and, more recently, Chair of the Global Reporting Initiative had just issued his King 3 Report that immediately attracted the attention of the corporate governance community worldwide.

Amongst other substantial innovations, the King 3 Report[1] dedicates a specific chapter (chapter 8) to the governance of stakeholder relationships, and states that the Board (or elected officials) of any public, private or social organization is ultimately and directly responsible for developing and implementing policies and programs aimed at sustaining planned and effective relationships with the organization’s principal stakeholder groups.

As a consequence, Board decisions connected to which different stakeholder interests the organization should privilege when in conflict, need to be ‘situational’ and, therefore, become a permanent topic of every Board meeting.

Clearly, this implies the adoption of a full stakeholder governance model and substantially changes the role of the organization’s public relator… the manager that is normally in the best condition to listen to stakeholder groups, understand their expectations and interpret them so that the Board may make  informed decisions for implementation by management  .

b-

Prof. Sven Hamrefors from Sweden’s Malarden University, had recently completed and published a comprehensive five year research effort[2] into Sweden’s most effective organizations on behalf of the Swedish Public Relations Association[3]. The results were collected under the ‘business effective communication’ report which elaborates on the concept of the ‘communicative organization’.

This relates to the accelerating global network society and to the ‘value network’ concept that describes how organizational value is found in the quality of the relationships exchanged amongst members of many fuzzy and immaterial networks (formed by internal and external stakeholders), as well as in the quality of the relationships between all the different value networks which impact the organization.

Thus, contrary to (or in extension of…) the traditional concept of the value chain -elaborated in the late seventies of the 20th century by Harvard Professor Michael Porter, where value is created in a linear and mostly material process- this more recent, Scandinavian line of thought attributes the creation of value mostly to the quality of relationshipswithin and amongst value networks .

This implies two strategic roles for the public relator:

1) a ‘political’ (Prof. Hamrefors defines it ‘ideological’) role of sustaining, supporting and inspiring organizational leadership in the effort to reinforce its ‘licence to operate’ vis-à-vis both value networks and society at large ;

2) a ‘contextual’ role of ensuring that all of the organization’s value networks be enabled to improve the quality of their relationships, thus increasing value creation.

c-

These two more immediate developments -coupled with other recent contributions from the Arthur Page Society[4], the PRSA[5], the Institute for Public Relations[6]; plus the global stakeholder relationship governance[7] integration with the generic principles and specific applications paradigm[8] of public relations- led to a very first and early outline  -accompanied by a statement of intentions signed by the Chair of the Global Alliance- that was sent to some 120 professionals, scholars, educators from 42 countries, inviting them to participate in a two phase cooperative process, by adopting the Cisco Webex Connexia synchronous video conferencing platform, which were set for February 10 and for March 8 2010.

In the two week interval between the two video conferences, participants were separated in six working groups, focussed on selected areas of interest,  to continue the discussion and complete a redraft of the first outline; validate the redraft during the second videoconference and then, finally, approve a first draft of the document to be posted for comments and suggestions on the World Public Relations Forum website.

The selection of the invitees followed three indicators:

°half professionals (from companies and agencies) and half scholars and educators;

°representativeness of as many countries as possible and all continents;

°individuals expected to be reactive, interested and available for the effort.

The very first outline of the accords included six areas of value creation:

governance, management, sustainability, marketing, internal and external communication.

42 of the initial invitees participated to the first two hour videoconference, half of them spoke directly by commenting and suggesting changes and/or other of the proposed approaches.

Towards the end of this first effort six volunteer group coordinators[9] were indicated, and each participant volunteered to be included in at least one of the six working groups for the following two weeks. The groups exchanged comments, materials and information and redrafted the brief related to each area. Some 80 exchanges between group coordinators and participants were concluded in the allocated time.

The coordinator then drafted a text which was sent to all selected invitees, including those who had not replied to the first call, requiring them to comment and inviting them to participate to the second videoconference call…..

There was general agreement that while the section devoted to marketing, that participants acknowledged is going through a radical conceptual overhaul, had not been able to produce significant added value more than what is generally and commonly understood.

To the contrary, the issue of the alignment of internal and external communication, instead, ended up deserving a section on its own.

Also, a lively discussion dwelled on whether the governance and management areas should not be integrated into one, and subsequently, if also the sustainability area should not also join that group. At the end (of the whole effort) it was decided to keep sustainability, governance and management (in that order) under the first half of the brief illustrating the societal and organizational value of public relations; while the internal, external communication and the alignment of the latter two were to belong to the other half of the brief illustrating the operational value of public relations.

The second video conference call saw the participation of 52 invitees, half of whom were new, while the other half had also participated to the earlier one.

After another two hours of lively discussion, agreement was reached that the coordinator would edit a first official draft of the document, send it to all participants to both sessions and ask them to respond with variations and suggestions in the following week.

During this whole first phase some 80 modifications where introduced, roughly half of linguistic nature and the other half more of content nature… as much as the two may differ…

In the meantime all cases, studies, links, papers referred to during the discussion were collected and added to the accompanying materials (references).

The coordinator also prepared a glossary describing, to the best of his knowledge and interpretation, the intended sense of some of the more relevant and relatively new concepts being used in the brief.

The reactions to the first draft by early contributors were in general critical for the language more than for the contents.

Possibly the most significant innovation focussed on the actual format of each of the six selected areas: a quick statement of the situation, a quick statement of how the communicative organization acts in that situation , followed by call to action to the public relations professional, succinctly enumerating the ways s/he brings value to the organization and society.

The second draft of the Stockholm Accords at this point was ready to be posted for the global professional community to comment on the World Public Relations Forum website for an open and non moderated discussion.

In the period between end March and end May, more than 60 comments were registered and led to the editing and subsequent posting of a third draft in early June.

Once again, in the different rounds of the ‘open comments’ many indulged on the language aspect, but this time from two different perspectives,  a purely linguistic one, as before; but also a more intellectual reference to concepts which were either believed by some to be irrelevant, or even counterproductive.

A few of these comments -that in the meantime had also naturally migrated to other blogs which, in turn, generated further interesting and enriching  points of view- were explicitly critical, even violently so, while all others were instead positive and in full support.

As much as numbers may seem relevant in this case, some 5 were critical and the other 55 generally or very specifically supportive.


[1] http://www.auditor.co.za/Portals/23/king%20111%20saica.pdf

[2] http://www.sverigesinformationsforening.se/in-english/research-statistics/business-effective-communication.aspx

[3] http://www.sverigesinformationsforening.se/in-english/

[4] http://www.awpagesociety.com/images/uploads/2007AuthenticEnterprise.pdf

[5]http://www.prsa.org/Intelligence/BusinessCase/?utm_source=home_page&utm_medium=left_nav&utm_campaign=businesscase

[6] http://www.instituteforpr.com/

[7] http://www.instituteforpr.org/ipr_info/global_stakeholder_relationship_governance/

[8] http://www.prconversations.com/index.php/2008/11/facing-this-historic-discontinuity-two-recently-developed-certainties-for-out-profession-generic-principles-and-specific-applications-and-stakeholder-relationship-management/

[9] Dan Tisch (Canada), Estelle De Beer (South Africa), Anne Gregory (UK), Peder Jonnson (Sweden), Annette Martelle (Canada), Joao Duarte (Portugal)

Here is an incomplete list of early participants to the process beyond, those who commented on the wprf and many other websites, participated and dicussed in Stockholm and in other professional gatherings around theworld during the effort:

Argentina: Juan Iramain

Australia: Julian Polachek

Brasil: Mateus Furlaneto, Paulo Nassar

Bulgaria: Nelly Benova, Maria Gergova

Canada: Terry Flynn, Annette Martell, Dan Tisch, Jean Valin

China: Flora Hung

Germany: Thorsten Luetzler, Holger Sievert

Holland: Henrik Killander

Italy: Giampaolo Azzoni, Emanuele Invernizzi, Toni Muzi Falconi, Amanda Succi

Malaysia: Shameem Abdul Jalil

Mexico: Marco Herrera

New Zealand: Catherine Arrow, Paul Dryden, Tim Marshall

Nigeria: Sunday Odedele

Portugal: Joao Duarte

Romania: Rares Petrisor

Slovenia: Dejan Vercic

South Africa: Amanda Hamilton Attwell, Estelle De Beer, Ronel Rensburg, Gustav Puth, Benita Steyn, Neeltje du Plessis

Sweden: Sven Hamrefors, Peder Jonnson, Sylvia Nylin, Jerry Silfwers,  Ylva Skoogh

Turkey: Serra Gorpe

UK: David Bailey, Anne Gregory, Richard Linning, Sandra McLeod, Paul Seaman, Sue Wolstenholme, Heather Yaxley

USA: Amanda Chapel, Rob Flaherty, Robert Grupp, William Murray, Tom Nicholson, Brad Rawlins,  Judy Van Slyke Turk, Edward O’Meara, Frank Ovaitt, John Paluszek, Sean Williams, Gary McCormick

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