The last in my trilogy on the Stockholm Accords is dedicated to rebutting the authoritarian notion that public relations professionals (let’s just call them ‘PRs’) are “ideological governors of value networks”.
This view – hidden in the Accords’ small print – is much too close to Stalin’s view of authors as “engineers of human souls” for my liking. So, here’s a call to dump the Accords’ illiberal vision of our profession’s role in society.
Before I justify my words, here’s a short explanation of the flaws that lie at the heart of the Stockholm Accords, which were ratified in Stockholm last week. They want to be touchy-feely but also to talk about “governing” media processes. At the same time, and to make things worse, their talk about “governing” media (social and mainstream) is rather stymied by their admitting that they actually control no more than 10 percent of media outcomes. So the Accords have two conflicting and irreconcilable aims, one of which it is accepted by the Accords’ authors that they cannot fulfill. Yet it’s worse. When discussing their “governing” role, they discuss its “ideological” nature. All in all, they’re using words which are either feebly post modern, modish and relativist or nastily authoritarian.
Maybe a huge amount of meaning has been lost in translation. In English (hardly a minority language for our game) this stuff sounds horrible and is reminiscent of long-settled debates. In any language, these approaches make for a very shaky “new” foundation for PRs to build on as we seek to redefine what our practice and mission is in today’s world.
Here’s the key Accord on the “communicative organisation” that PRs should focus their concerns on:
“The communicative organization ensures full consistency of its storytelling by balancing global transparency, finite resources and time sensitive demands dealing with fast moving inside/outside changes and new conflicts of interests that emerge from multiple stakeholder participation.
“Communication with internal, boundary and external stakeholders is coherent and coordinated with the organization’s mission, vision, values, as well as its actions and behaviors.”
The Accords’ authors are well aware that their text is gibberish to c-level management, the public and even to most PRs. Hence, Toni Muzi Falconi has provided an accompanying glossary and personal explanation of what the real intent is of each of the Accords. As Toni is a prime mover behind the whole process and his is the only explanation offered on the Accords’ website, it seems sensible to assume he expresses fairly well what’s being said. Here he explains what’s meant by the “communicative organisation”:
“A communicative organization recognizes that even the most empowered public relations director cannot realistically hope to govern more than 10% of its communicative behaviours.
“Therefore the communication leader of the organization plays two fundamentally strategic roles:
°an ‘ideological’ role by supporting and providing the organization’s leadership with the necessary, timely and relevant information which allows it to effectively govern the value networks as well as an intelligent, constant and conscious effort to understand the relevant dynamics of society at large:
°a ‘contextual’ role which implies the constant delivery of communicative skills, competencies and tools to the components of its value networks so that they improve their relationships amongst each other and with the other value networks.”
The problem is that the the notion of PRs playing an “ideological role” comes close to saying PR plays a propagandistic function inside organisations. Moreover, the idea that PR can “govern” behaviour – even if it is only communicative behaviour – has illiberal and worrying undertones. One could argue – and I do – that this explanation of the Accords’ intent reveals an attempt to redefine the role of PRs as “ideological governors of value networks”. That is hardly a description of our role that’s designed to win widespread acceptance or one which could conceivably encourage public trust or confidence in what we communicate. Most likely it is a description that – if ever widely promoted – would see open conversation stop the minute any PR entered a room or joined in a discussion.