Roger Hayes, apcoworldwide.com
I recently spoke at The Public Relations of Public Diplomacy and Nation Branding Conference held by the IPRRC in Coral Gables, Florida. My session, Public Relations as Public Diplomacy: From Propaganda and Promotion to Conversation and Collaboration, focused on the implications for skills in our profession. The conference was well-attended by a mix of academics and practitioners from America and overseas with much opportunity for networking.
As a relatively new discipline, public diplomacy requires an interdisciplinary approach; my contention is that it could inform public relations and public affairs. With massive increases in the challenges faced by organizations, everyone at the conference agreed that there are massive implications for skills, training and the kind of people we recruit. This requires a multi-disciplinary approach between leadership, strategy, governance, marketing, diplomacy and sustainability, with communications and collaboration as the link.
It is the role of a communications culture, which has led public relations as a discipline, to take an interest in public diplomacy. Until recently, foreign policy, business and social issues occupied distinct spaces. Those have now been replaced by the convergence of dialogue, engagement and collaboration between government, business and civil society into a new discipline.
But, where does that leave public relations, which is considered a limited concept in many emerging countries? With new media tending to be quite tactical in its application, perhaps public diplomacy is the point of departure to link it and PR more closely to these other disciplines concerning business leaders and heads of political institutions, not-for-profits, et cetera.
Conference attendees agreed that international corporations have an obligation to help solve global problems, such as climate change, but equally face challenges related to legitimacy, i.e. exploiting natural resources or perceived tax avoidance.
Globalisation and the internet have changed the rules and relationships between business, government and civil society, so international corporations should show more thought leadership and engage in radical diplomacy in a way that goes beyond lobbying. This is where corporate character and a holistic communications culture come into play.
It was agreed that, in addition to political and commercial skills and knowledge, corporate and public diplomats increasingly require softer skills, such as negotiation, relationship management, listening and collaboration. Narrow self-interest is no longer a sustainable basis for corporations to deliver economic and social value. Collaborative leadership is the most appropriate response to today’s challenging global problems.
Public relations and strategic communications are the only disciplines within an organization that have responsibility for all stakeholders. Professionals in these disciplines should, therefore, be the best-placed to advise their CEOs who have the same overview.
So, as we look ahead, the world is crying out for a new cadre of corporate and public diplomats!