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Il past president di Ferpi nel Journal of Communication Management

20/09/2004
Vi sono delle testate, ad esempio The Lancet nel campo medico, Financial Times per quello economico, che "lasciano il segno" nei loro rispettivi settori. Una di queste, per la nostra attività, è il Journal of Communication Management, della Henry Stewart Publications. Non soltanto il numero che trovate qui sotto riporta due interventi molto significativi di Toni Muzi Falconi, ma il nostro past president è anche stato chiamato a far parte del board della testata: un riconoscimento davvero molto importante. E' la prima volta che accade. Complimenti a Toni. Un altro segno di presenza a livello internazionale che onora la Ferpi.(e.c.) - The Journal of Communication ManagementEd ecco l'intervento di Toni Muzi Falconi su The Journal of Communication Management:
Toni Muzi Falconi for The Journal of Communication Management6-1-20041.If Corporate Social Responsibility -as applied today by many organisations around the world- is truly - as some say - only a public relations invention, and supposedly (at least so far…) an effective one, why –one wonders- is the pr community not applying its own invention to itself?External pressures are mounting and time seems to be short: a profession increasingly, repeatedly and consistently accused by credible sources of complicating the democratic process or not being accountable in its contribution to organisational results would be expected to at least try and behave in a socially responsible and a fully accountable manner.2.But what is the public relations community?Reasonable estimates indicate at 3 million the number of individuals who in the world today are professionally involved in an albeit extensive, but nevertheless publicly perceived interpretation of public relations. Only less than 10% of these belong to a professional association (national, international or even specialised in one of the diversified practices), and it can reasonably be said that belonging does imply being consciously part of a community. This, to conclude that the core global pr community is formed by some 250 thousand professionals, while the extended global pr community comprises some 3 million people - a far from unified community as readers will agree.3.It seems difficult here not to immediately grasp that our profession's longstanding ‘public perception and legitimacy -or if one prefers- license to operate issue' is arguably based on this mismatch, which offers little analogy in other new or old professions, and leads many observers to state that only a very tiny minority of professionals fully grasp the understanding of how the terms ethics and public relations are deeply interrelated in day-to-day substance and not merely in perception.This conclusion would be easy if we assumed the core community as being mostly formed by respected, competent and reliable professionals while the extended one (the other 2.750.000) as being also formed by sleazes, flacks, spin doctors, bandits and the like.However we know from everyday experience that this assumption has little bearing with the truth.Many non members are possibly better professionals than many members: they simply don't join: a) because they don't wish to mix with existing members they either don't know or respect; b) because some do not seem to have conscious need of associations; c) because many are not even fully aware -nor, if they are, happy- of being in a profession which is called public relations; d) because some know (or believe..) they would not be accepted if they tried to join.4.In any case, this argument is no excuse for existing associations not to vigorously adopt proactive policies based on that same social responsibility concept their members push their clients and employers into adopting. If they did this, and properly let it be known to their stakeholders (amongst which potential members are an important segment), associations would probably attract a higher number and overall quality of members.The implication is that the more aware segments of the profession need very much to get their act together and attract the attention of the larger and unaware parts of the pr community in order to:° define and promote the adoption of socially responsible practice standards;° define and promote the adoption of accountable procurement, measurement and evaluation standards.5.But, in trying to do this, some could spot a potential contradiction between accountability (vis-a-vis private, public, social businesses who require managerial standards from all contributing functions) and social responsibility (vis-a-vis critics like consumerists, environmentalists, governments and media, who accuse us of pushing public policy processes into protecting or enhancing what often prove to be very private interests).Do clients and employers usually expect and demand socially responsible and accountable behaviour from their public relators?Helas… these are the Scilla and Cariddi boundaries which confine the policy terrain for associations who wish to appropriately address these issues.6.A first immediate implication for associations doing this would be the adoption of full financial and non financial reporting guidelines.Today, only a handful of the 60 plus associations who form the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management -the nearest and most effective instrument the profession has created to begin to develop global general principles- publish and distribute to members and non members an annual report, and none of them are triple bottom line nor do they follow GRI indicators!A second immediate consequence would see associations involved in activities based on stakeholder and not only member expectations, which inevitably imply:a) outspoken and bold advocacy platforms to protect the profession from public abuse by denouncing non member behaviour (and that's fairly easy, as much as rare..)andb) no cover-up for members as well as deciding a definite halt to arguing the practical impossibility of implementing ethic codes under the continued threat of litigation: an alibi which could also mean that associations do not wish others to be involved in the monitoring of member professional practices.And one would find it difficult to call this a socially responsible behaviour.A third implication of a socially responsible policy could well include intensive and proactive lobbying for erga omnes regulation on specific pr practices which mostly impact on the public interest, as well as the promotion of incentives or even an obligation that contractual assignments between corporate and consultancy members include specific criteria for performance evaluation.7.Professional associations, rather than waiting to be pushed into joining the Global Alliance and paying ‘lip service' to its activities, should to the contrary focalise their efforts and pressures in making explicit CSR and accountability policies work….effectively and quickly.Beginning, for example, by promoting a correct positioning of this CSR fad which today pervades our profession and many organisations across the globe.The most recent trend seems to be in assigning responsibility for CSR to the public relations function. In my view, this trend is a mistake and its practical effect is to trivialize the very concept of CSR turning it into -at best- a communication tool or, as many say, ‘a pr exercise'.There is no denying that corporate social responsibility is, de facto, an ‘answer' to stakeholder pressures by an organisation and in itself does have strong communicative features, both inside and outside the organisation. But the communication of corporate social responsibility is only one of its integral and strategic components and, of course, should be managed and coordinated by the public relations function.A task in itself which is sufficiently relevant to the organisation to allow the public relations function to grow organically, without necessarily adopting a ‘pr-integralistic' approach whose major risk is to end up with a whimsical  and generic perception of CSR.But then, if not the pr director, who should be in charge of  CSR?In my view, it should be the CEO, as no implementation of a CSR policy will ever be effective if the CEO is not fully and visibly pushing it.8.To begin summing up, almost 90% of public relations professionals do not belong to associations and therefore are left untouched by attempts to define and implement socially responsible and accountable professional standards. On the other hand, associations -faute de mieux- are increasingly called upon by stakeholders to represent general as well as specific interests of the profession as a whole, and not only on behalf of their members.How can associations realistically and effectively cope with this apparent contradiction?9.Maybe Ed Bernays was right when he lobbied to make a state license mandatory for public relators only to be defeated by his own colleagues who argued strongly that public relations is a fundamental right for every individual in a democratic society?Do we still agree today with this (to say the least) lofty argument used against Bernays, or are we just once again paying ‘lip service' to the rhetoric and persuasive foundations of our profession?After having healthily lived through 43 years of a highly diversified public relations career and having often argued on behalf of this very first amendment issue with the same vigour with which I for years unabashedly defended smoker rights against intolerant antis…today I am not so sure that I wouldn't agree with the old man….Let's put it this way….if national states made it compulsory for public relators to obtain a license to operate, associations would indeed represent the profession. But if one looks at Nigeria and Brasil,  where licensing has been mandatory for many years, indications are that the profession has not visibly improved practice standards and that many local professionals call themselves something else in order to avoid the licensing scheme….which would also suggest little if any correlation between the level of public relations standards and the activities of professional associations.10.I have argued that the relationship between ethics and corporate social responsibility, from a public relator's point of view, is strongly related to the activities of professional associations who find themselves half way between certain irrelevance and uncertain innovation. I would suggest the latter is far more attractive than the former.Toni Muzi Falconi

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