Second year student Sean Ball reports on the first of our guest lectures:
The autumn CIPR Guest Lecture Series kicked off with Leeds Met’s very own Public Relations Professor Anne Gregory.
The truly insightful lecture focused mainly on current topical issues and the need for astute practitioners to rise to the occasion, not just as communicators, but as corporate problem solvers, forward thinkers as well as trusted coaches/advisers to organisational leaders.
Professor Gregory outlined the several driving factors of our rapidly changing world, highlighting the interconnectivity of issues in an era of globalisation and new technologies.
“The Arab Spring saw politics and technology work together to bring about social good in a way never seen before.” With a burgeoning population, the economic rise of the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India & China) and the calamitous decline of the Eurozone and its counterpart across the Atlantic, Professor Gregory was keen to stress that sound communication is pivotal to the future solution of these issues.
“Governments don’t have the answers any more, they simply can’t cope. The solution is global collaboration and togetherness.”
However, as WEF (World Economic Forum) founder and CEO Klaus Schwab asks: “How can we use new technologies to involve everybody in solving the problems that face us?”
Professor Gregory insists organisations must adopt a new way of operating, valuing communication as the lifeblood of all decisions and actions. This goes beyond a mere ‘greenwashed’ CSR statement on the company website; instead organisations should use the digital revolution to empower its stakeholders.
“The key is authenticity in everything the organisation does.” PR has evolved beyond the asymmetric press release and what Grunig described as the press agent/publicity model. Organisational leaders are beginning to realize that in the 21st century an organisation is defined by its communication.
Professor Gregory used Coca Cola’s revaluation to illustrate this: Coca Cola’s fixed asset value accounted for just 13% of its value; the remaining 87% was attributed to its communicative reputation.
Gregory reiterated the evolving role of the professional communicator anecdotally by quoting an industry peer: “If I haven’t had a major argument with my CEO before 10am I’m not doing my job right!”
She stressed the transcendental role of the PR executive will need to be defended when questions are asked about ROI (return on investment), however decisions based on finance usually end badly. Corporate reputation is becoming the optimum measure of organisational performance and leaders must adopt socially responsible constitutions (like the NHS), empowering their employees to uphold company values and build multi-stakeholder relationships.
Referencing former BP CEO Tony Hayward’s inept handling of the oil crisis last year, Professor Gregory remarked: “no-one wants to be putting lipstick on a pig.”
Again, re-enforcing the need for enshrining transparent corporate values into any organisational culture. Professor Gregory concluded the fascinating lecture on the notion that successful communicators need contextual and communicative intelligence, interpreting and understanding the present, whilst also foreseeing the future, outlining the seemingly demanding nature of professional public relation in the modern day world.