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GA Chair Discusses Public Relations, Cultures and Corporate Social Responsibility on his tour of Asia


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Speech by the GA Chair, John Paluszek on his tour of Asian universities.
February 01, 2010

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GA Chair Discusses Public Relations, Cultures and Corporate Social Responsibility on his tour of Asia

  1. 1. “Public Relations, Cultures and Corporate Social Responsibility” John Paluszek Chair, Global Alliance For Public Relations and Communication Management Senior Counsel, Ketchum at: International Islamic University of Malaysia Kuala Lampur, Malaysia February 1, 2010 Universiti Teknologi Mara Kuala Lampur, Malaysia February 2, 2010 London School of Public Relations Jakarta, Indonesia February 4, 2010 “My central message here today, and wherever I travel for The Global Alliance, is that we can – and we must – all learn from each other…” “In a democratic society, citizens can disagree on everything, except the way to resolve their differences – and that must be in non-violent mode through dialogue, compromise and the evolution of reciprocal relationships…” 1
  2. 2. “Yes, over time, nations do change. Cultures do evolve. Societies and their political and economic systems do develop. Often, public relations professionals can help…” “Selamat Pagi” to all! [Good morning in Malaysian] I thank you very much for your kind invitation to be with you today. I especially enjoy visits to institutions of higher learning where students bring energy, curiosity and optimism, and the faculty and administration bring wisdom, experience and tradition. I’m especially enthused about being here today because I have visited colleges and universities around the world -- from Cyprus to New Zealand and from Canada to Argentina -- but have never had the pleasure of doing so in this region. You may have noted that for my subject today, I’ve chosen to address, “Public Relations, Cultures and Corporate Social Responsibility”. I hope that will stimulate some vigorous discussion in the time we’ve reserved for dialogue, because I realize that there may well be many points of view on what I will offer. My central message here today, and wherever I travel for The Global Alliance, is that we can -- and we must – all learn from each other. 2
  3. 3. There are many ways to parse that message, to elaborate on it, and I will try to do that with you in three inter-related sections of these remarks. They are, of course, the components of the title: Public Relations. Cultures. and Corporate Social Responsibility. “Public Relationships” First, let’s begin by addressing the root meaning of “public relations”. Yes, this is a term that is greatly mis-understood at many levels in many parts of the world. And, as we know, the term “public relations” has many synonyms. But the literal interpretation of the term is revealing. “Public relations” surely centers on relationships. And, I would contend, reciprocal relationships – “win-win” relationships . And to expand this even further, reciprocal relationships built on two-way communications between an organization and the groups of people – “the publics” – who are either “stakeholders” in that organization or influential, external “interested parties”. But permit me to take a step back for a moment. Attending a conference at early point in my career – many decades ago – I was greatly impressed with the way public relations can be positioned in society. 3
  4. 4. The speaker was the distinguished author and public relations counselor, Alan Center. Here’s what he told us, (paraphrased): “All professions must serve a vital social purpose. Medicine has health as its purpose in society. Law has order. “And public relations … public relations has, as its social objective, harmony.” Harmony that results from policy and performance that balances self-interest with the interests of others – and, importantly, with the public interest. That keystone principle is not just some anachronistic ideal. It has great life and “legs” even today. It is scalable. It can be applied from the simplest commercial transaction – say, in marketing – all the way to international relations – via public diplomacy. And in these troubled days of international and inter-cultural mis- understanding, mistrust -- and, tragically, violence – isn’t more harmony what we must all work for? I have observed – yes, at a distance – the sad divide among citizens in several countries caused by issues such as minarets in Switzerland, head 4
  5. 5. scarves in France and perceived blasphemy in this region. These are very serious issues and I’m not naïve enough to believe that they can be solved easily by brief, or sporadic, or banal dialogue. But in a democratic society, citizens can disagree on everything, except the way to resolve their differences – and that must be in non-violent mode through dialogue, compromise and the evolution of reciprocal relationships. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could extend that liberal, humanistic principle to all international and ideological disputes? It would be easy to be discouraged by today’s violent clashes around the world. But there are also examples of how -- yes, over a considerable period of time – what appeared to be insoluble, violent conflicts have been settled, even if only precariously. Northern Ireland, for instance. And, closer to home here, Sri Lanka -- where the first presidential peacetime election in three decades was held last month; yes, the outcome has been disputed, but so far without violence. Global Public Relations 5
  6. 6. The discussion of public relations here today would hardly be complete without addressing the fact that arguably, public relations has now become a global profession. Not surprisingly, I think this may be best manifested by the organization I have the honor to chair – The Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management. So just a brief words about the Global Alliance -- and I’m very pleased to note that Shameem Abdul Jalil is a very active member of the Alliance Board of Directors. And she has been most energetic and creative in arranging and implementing my visit here in (Kuala Lampur/Jakarta). Of course, she has been a public relations leader in this region for many years. I’m also very pleased to note that The Institute of Public Relations Malaysia/Public Relations Society of Indonesia is an active member of our global organization. The Global Alliance is a confederation of such professional public relations association ion some sixty-five countries around the world dedicated to raising standards and advocating for the public relations professionals. We do that with many services for our members, especially in our ethics protocol, analysis of public relations practice in twenty- 6
  7. 7. countries, certification standards and a soon-to-be published comprehensive study of how public relations is being taught around the world in universities like this one. But the GA’s signature event is our World Public Relations Forum. This year it will be held June 14th and 15th in Stockholm, Sweden, in association with our member organization, The Swedish Public Relations Association. The Forum, with delegates and outstanding speakers from around the world, will be a truly memorable event. For two main reasons: First, it will be truly interactive: Every delegate will be able to participate in the development of the Forum outcome – “The Stockholm Accords”. And second, “The Stockholm Accords” will have a lasting impact on how we will shape the future of public relations because the Accords will analyze how, in the new concept of the “communicative organization” our profession can help achieve organizational success in the new “value network” society. An Interconnected World This emphasis on global public relations is essentially a reflection, a recognition, of how very linked the global society has become. It’s indisputable that countries all over the world are increasingly linked by: 7
  8. 8. Trade Capital flows Immigration Foreign Aid and Development Tourism and, of course, Information Technology. Incidentally, on information technology: We have a silly aphorism in my country that says, “What happens in Las Vegas, stays in Las Vegas.” Not only is that not true in Las Vegas but, as you know, it’s not true anywhere in the world. Because , with the ever-evolving information technology of today and tomorrow, what happens anywhere in world can be known momentarily wherever there is a cell phone, an IPod, a blackberry or a computer screen. Meaning everywhere. Think of Iran’s June election and how the demonstrators got the word out. And just to complete that list of global linkages we must, unfortunately, acknowledge that we are also connected by: 8
  9. 9. Health threats Natural disasters Crime Terrorism and War. With all that, I’m nevertheless, sometimes confronted by public relations practitioners who are so immersed in local, tactical concerns that they are not interested in global public relations issues. My reply: “You had better care about international public relations because chances are very good that your boss, or your boss ‘s boss cares about it.” These days, many major public relations counseling firms are generating up to half of their revenue from beyond their national borders. Cultures Do Evolve You’ve no doubt noticed that I’ve morphed into the second part of my remarks, which I’ve called “Cultures.” 9
  10. 10. In this section, I offer the central thought that the public relations root principle is adaptable to many different social, economic, political – and cultural – systems and traditions. In a word, it is protean. Here is an example from my own company. Ketchum now has six offices in China. (Now, I am old enough to remember the Cultural Revolution in China and even stories of Mao’s “long march” so I find that quite remarkable.) Even more remarkable, however, is one of our most important growth services in China. You see, Ketchum counsels Chinese government-owned companies how to be transparent when they seek to become “partially private” by raising capital on various international stock exchanges. It won’t surprise you to know that the necessary degree of transparency in that transaction is quite foreign to most Chinese government–owned companies. Yes, over time, nations do change. Cultures do evolve. Societies and their political and economic systems do develop. Often, public relations professionals can help. We help by finding the common interest between parties and nourishing it. And we help by developing the two-way communication – 10
  11. 11. listening as well as projecting – that develops and maintains a relationship. I think you will agree that this kind of harmony can be a social good. Here’s a corollary thought. It comes from Valin Nasr, an Iranian- American professor of international relations at Tufts University. In his new book, “Forces of Fortune” , subtitled “The Rise of the New Muslim Middle Class and What It will Mean For Our World” he offers the seminal proposition that in our inter-connected world, over the long term, economic integration may well trump ideological differences. Of course, he says it much better than I. So here’s a brief excerpt from the book’s summary: “…there is a vital but unseen rising force in the Islamic world – a new business-minded middle class – that is building a vibrant new Muslim world economy… They are building a whole new economy… and their distinctive blending of Islam and capitalism is the key to bringing lasting reform and to defeating fundamentalism. They are the people ... the West can and must do business with.” 11
  12. 12. Fortuitously, I read that book on my way to a Global Alliance visit to Turkey earlier this year. I say, fortuitously, because Turkey, like Malaysia/Indonesia seems to be manifesting Mr. Nasr’s concept. And, during my side-visit to the impressive mosques in Istanbul, while touring the magnificent Blue Mosque, I was stopped in my tracks by this inscription of the words of The Prophet etched in white calligraphy at the main exit: “A merchant is the beloved of God.” And as I was leaving the mosque – click! – a quote from a U.S. Diplomat about a decade ago came to mind: “Let us work to make the world so economically-interdependent that war will go out of style.” Can public relations professionals, in our day-to-day work help connect the cultures – the societies – from which those seminal thoughts have come. Perhaps not directly. Perhaps not every day. But with the creativity – -- and, again, the instinct for harmony -- that is inherent in professional public relations we can make a contribution. Public Relations as Public Diplomacy 12
  13. 13. There is a stimulating opportunity in this direction facing the international public relations professional. It is in the area of public service and, more specifically, public diplomacy. However, let me say quickly, I am not talking about propaganda. Propaganda is one-way communication from a society where dissent is suppressed or not tolerated. No, I’m referring to the public diplomacy that is genuinely people-to- people communication freely undertaken in the interest of mutual understanding and – yes, harmony. This kind of public diplomacy is surely our “turf.” After all, where is it written that some of the most informed, experienced and articulate communications professionals around the world should not play a role in the ”global marketplace if ideas.” Where is that stone tablet that says that well-prepared and motivated communicators – that is, international public relations professionals – should not help in the development of what has been called nations’ “soft power” of addressing hearts and minds? 13
  14. 14. One of the best examples with which I’ve been involved is the current “Arab and American Business Fellowship” program recently cited as a “best practice” initiative in the Istanbul United Nations Alliance of Civilizations Forum. This Arab-American fellowship program is a mutual exchange in which young business leaders from the Arab world and American counterparts exchange home-and-home visits, learning of each others’ business philosophies and operations and, not incidentally, the respective cultures. The program is sponsored by Business For Diplomatic Action, a private- sector initiative composed of leaders from public relations, advertising, academia, government, ”think tanks” and civil society organizations. Public Relations and CSR You may have noticed that by referring to Business for Diplomatic Action, I have slyly opened up the third sub-text of my remarks – corporate social responsibility. Maybe at first glance CSR – incidentally also known as sustainable development, corporate citizenship and other designations – may appear to be a bit of a “stretch” in our dialogue here today. But if we agree that the 14
  15. 15. task of the public relations professional is to operate at the interface between an organization and its publics – as it were, almost as a membrane – then we can’t ignore one of the most significant changes in the development of capitalism. And in my judgment, that is exactly what corporate social responsibility, by any of its names, represents. It is nothing less than a recognition that companies must now respond to a set of public demands that didn’t exist in strength a generation ago. They must achieve their traditional business objectives and behave positively in society. Today, in the “accelerated culture” of the digital age, consumers and citizens are always looking for – and are empowered in finding – the next relationship. In such relationships with companies, reputation is now greatly valued along with the quality and price of the product or service purchased. And that corporate reputation is frequently based on how the company contributes to – or, at least, does not impede -- social progress in the public interest. 15
  16. 16. So CSR issues and programs abound. Energy conservation. Environmental protection. Human rights and labor rights. Even cause- related marketing, to name just a few. As I was preparing these remarks, I saw a fascinating article on the subject in a recent issue of Fortune magazine. Headline: “Why Doing Good is Good For Business.” Here’s an excerpt relating to a leading CSR expert, Dov Seidman : “Siedman has built a highly successful business on the theory that in today’s wired and transparent global economy, companies that “outbehave” their competitors ethically will also tend to outperform them financially… He’s right that how you behave can be a real competitive advantage… “He contends that the rise of information technology has made good behavior more important because it has become increasingly hard to hide bad behavior. Ask Wall Street… “[But] in a world where disgruntled employees and unhappy customers can trash you globally in the time it takes to dash off a nasty blog posting or upload as cell phone video, it’s becoming much harder to manage reputation the old-fashioned way.” 16
  17. 17. (Parenthetically, you’ve no doubt noticed that I have not ventured to offer extended comment on the fast evolving information technology. For two reasons: I thought it better to simply show its significance in a specific organizational setting – such as corporate social responsibility; and I’m willing to wager that just about everyone in this room under the age of seventy knows far more about social media and social networking than I will ever know.) Just a few more comments about CSR and public relations: Some of those comments in the Fortune article seem essentially defensive. But there is also a “flip side” to support the commitment to CSR. It is that many important corporate stakeholders confer positive value on it. Customers and employees, or course, but perhaps surprisingly, an increasing number of shareholders as well. Again, one can’t be naïve. These shareholders insist not only on positive social outcomes, but also a comparable return on their investments. And generally, that it is what the Socially Responsible Investing mutual funds are generating. 17
  18. 18. These SRI funds vary quite considerably. Some relate to the ethical framework of religious orders, others to the priorities of environmental or other no-governmental organizations. Not surprisingly, governments are insisting not only on socially responsible performance by companies, but also regular reporting of policies and performance in these endeavors. For example, last week, the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission announced that it will now require that public companies report regularly on their projected liabilities connected with climate change. Finally, if there is any doubt that public relations can play a central role in CSR, surely the global proliferation of corporate annual “Social Reports” or “Public Reports”, detailing CSR performance and aspirations, is evidence of professional communications management. There are reportedly over 4,000 such annual reports published around the world. There is also the natural linkage between CSR and crisis and issue management, both well-established public relations practices. Because the company truly committed to the preventive benefits of CSR will benefit by addressing social change before an issue becomes a crisis. Personal Conclusion 18
  19. 19. Having consumed so much of your valuable time, I now hope that we will still have an opportunity to an exchange of views on these and other subjects of interest to you. But with your indulgence, I’d like to conclude on a somewhat personal note. After the Global Alliance’s Stockholm World Public Relations Forum in June, I will have just one more year as Global Alliance Chair to try to champion public relations as important to organizational success and a contributor to a more collaborative global society. My hope, in making visits to important venues around the world, like this week in Malaysia and Indonesia -- again, arranged through Shameem’s outstanding efforts -- is that students of public relations and the next generations of public practitioners will embrace that mission. And so, in summing up all the great potential for global public relations that I have attempted to offer to you today, I have but one regret: I wish I that I was starting in public relations all over again. Thank you. 19
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