The Communications Revolution according to Stockholm

On 15th June 2010, the World Public Relations Forum gathered in Stockholm. PR practitioners, researchers and educators from every continent and over 20 countries ratified the Stockholm Accords, a new manifesto re-affirming the importance of PR and Communication Management in organisational success.

I must confess when I first read the Stockholm Accords it came across as a bit of a last gasp from an industry in its death throes. An industry which recognises it has to adapt or die in the face of a social media and networked organisation tidal wave which threatens to sweep aside the old order.

Let me remind you. Like it or not, it isn’t about mass communications anymore – it’s about masses of communicators.

The authors of the Stockholm Accords spelled it out quite clearly. Their objective was to launch a “global public relations program for the public relations profession” in a “conscious and planned effort to argue the value of public relations”. Oh dear thought I – more PR spin.

Then I read a magnificent blog post by my friend Mike Klein, which triggered a few dormant neurones into life and I saw that I had been missing something really quite exciting.

It’s not about the huffing a puffing of PR practitioners desperately trying to justify their existence. It’s about the very real convergence of two previously distinct endeavours. It’s about external and internal communications coming together. It’s about cross functional “strategic communication” emerging as an indispensable driver, definer and guardian of corporate strategy and reputation.

On page 12 of the Accords, one of its architects Toni Muzi Falconi acknowledges that even the most empowered public relations director cannot realistically hope to directly monitor more than ten percent of the communicative behaviour of her organisation. It has probably always been thus – however the difference today is that the communicative behaviour of the organisation can spread across the globe, into every digital nook and cranny within seconds. The old order still sees this as a threat not an opportunity. It is both of course.

On the same page comes the welcome recognition that much of the value created by the organisation comes from fuzzy (not linear) and immaterial networks that normally disrupt the distinction between internal and external audiences. I say welcome, because if you don’t recognise a problem it is very hard to fix it, and I fear that too many communications professionals continue to bury their heads in the sand over this one.

Furthermore, I absolutely love the assertion, actually, let’s call it recognition, that the most important element of communication management is understanding how an organisation’s reputation depends largely on the actions of employees. My definition of action includes words and behaviour; I trust theirs does too.

Some of the language used in the Accords worries me a bit. The authors talk of coordination and oversight to ensure consistency of content, actions and behaviours. This smacks a bit of the old corporate communications paradigm.

Sadly, the authors chose to call it coordination of internal and external communications, not convergence.

I may just have a bash at getting that amended…

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