Professor Anne Gregory and Jean Valin have asked readers of PR Conversations (PRC) to get involved in their project to produce a Global Body of Knowledge that defines the capabilities that proficient public relations practitioners should possess. I am taking up that challenge here by critiquing their attempt to elevate public relations into a respected profession by defining the professional qualifications that PR pros must acquire.
They describe in the PRC article how their thinking is based on detailed research:
Over 20 associations, representing every continent, attended the Credentials Summit and as a result the Global Alliance was commissioned to undertake research, drawing together all the existing capability frameworks, academic writing and professional body information into a Global Body of Knowledge. This according to the International Standards Organisation (ISO), is the first step needed to put together a recognised Global Standard which can be used by professional bodies to design credentials and by academics to guide curriculum design.
Then they go on to outline seven key knowledge areas that “entry level” (Heather Yaxley usefully critiques this in the comments of PRC) public relations practitioners must demonstrate their grasp of if they are to be deemed as being fully qualified to do their job:
- research, planning, implementation, evaluation
- ethics and law
- crisis communication
- communication models and theories
- history and current events
- business literacy
- media, social channels and use of technology.
The problem is that none of the attributes listed above are exclusive to our trade. Research and planning, for instance, applies to product management, marketing, supply change management and virtually any other business or institutional function one cares to mention. The same can be said for knowledge of ethics, law, current events, business literacy (however this awfully flaky term is defined) and the use of new technology, including social media. Even knowledge of crisis communication and communication models and theories are not the exclusive domains of PR pros.
Gregory and Valin also spell out the core competencies required by “mid-level” PR professionals as being (my comments in brackets):
- critical listening [er, which business function does this not apply to?]
- global awareness and tracks global news and issues [from sales to product management and production to running any business this applies]
- manages information [name me a management position that does not do this?]
- contextual awareness [everybody in every function]
- leadership qualities [any manager whatsoever worthy of the name]
- innovation and flexibility [everybody who wants to advance their career or business or institution]
- problem-solving, critical thinking and adaptability [again, any manager worth his or her salary]
- strategic management of communication [everybody who has to make a managerial decision at work; though the language used, I note, sounds very manipulative and conspiratorial]
- technological and visual literacy [everybody – ok, increasingly or nearly or soon will be, everybody]
- applying cross-cultural and diversity considerations [essential for everybody with ambition in today’s hyper sensitive easily offended world]
- meeting facilitation ability [anybody who organizes a meeting].
I note that being able to think clearly, write and speak well, be diplomatic and indulge in schmooze, seemingly play no part in their wish list of essential globally required PR skills. Though I accept that such talents – however invaluable they might be to PR – are also the life-blood of many other fields of professional life.
I wouldn’t worry too much about the banalities of the attributes that they claim distinguish qualified PR pros from unqualified ones, but for the fact that they also take a militant stand against Western culture:
…most of the existing frameworks [which they seek to replace] were written by western-based, or western-oriented organisations. For example, much of the history of public relations that is in text books is very western. We need to take out any cultural bias so GBOK is truly neutral and applicable around the world.
If this ill-thought-out recommendation were taken seriously it would have entirely negative consequences. What our public relations industry needs least of all is a supposed all inclusive, culturally and ethically neutral bedrock to its professional body of knowledge and standards. To explain this some more, let’s review a few real-world challenges.
Saudi Arabia does not like Gay or women’s rights or democracy or trade unions, all of which are rooted in Western values. Bribery was once seen as perfectly acceptable in China and many parts of Africa. Yet they now seek to alter their embedded cultures so that they align with the West’s. Even the successful use of social media and the full use of IT in society calls for the adoption of Western values of openness and cooperation.
We need to inject much more Western cultural bias in to our PR thinking and assumptions. In other words, we need to spread Western values across the globe, not restrict, downplay or traduce them. (Anybody who wants my nuanced take see CSR: it’s not the same in Lagos as in London and Cant or Kant? PR-think gets heavy (part 1) and (part 2) Cant or Kant? PR-think gets heavy and Getting to grips with corporate and PR ethics)
Gregory’s and Valin’s failure to come up with anything more credible than motherhood and apple pie (an incomplete list of what most people need to be successful in any aspect of modern business) reflects the futility of trying to achieve what they have set out to do. In opposition to them, I maintain that if PR was a more self-assured industry, it wouldn’t need to indulge in such futile, self-defeating and self-denigrating exercises.