The Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management (GA) hosted its 2018 World Public Relations Forum on April 22-24 in Oslo, Norway. The gathering included more than 40 speakers and the participation of delegates from 44 countries. The Institute for Public Relations is a member of the GA. I was there and represented the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication and IPR where I serve in the Board of Trustees. Here are some takeaways from the event:
1. Professionals must act as a social conscience. The South African public relations perspective focuses on the activist role of professionals, bio-power and social change. Dalien Benecke, professor of the University of Johannesburg, emphasized the need to question our own viewpoints and organizational views and consciously advocate for diverse voices in our communities. Professionals are encouraged to learn from all levels and build an infrastructure of communication equality that embraces solidarity with marginalized populations. Moreover, the public relations industry is changing rapidly, but ethics, diversity communication and good writing continue to be at the core of education and practice. Sustaining industry-academy dialogue is essential, and in a responsible business world, internships must be paid!
2. Authentic and experiential strategies can help showcase business solutions. Snøhetta designed a modern house in the wild with public access as a strategy to increase knowledge of its work among decision makers and boost its reputation as an innovative producer of transformational constructions.
3. Global strategies are local. In the United States, public relations strategies are typically regional to grasp attention of consumers with locally-relevant stories and known media influence. Norwegian Airlines used local associates as advocates to counteract political attacks on the air travel industry in the United States. Culturally specific communication promotes effective localization practices and a strong understanding of how people in a given country express emotion, have needs for physical space and understand equality. These dimensions help us understand how target audiences communicate around the world. Finally, behavioral science and economics can help communicators understand how people come to conclusions, meeting people where they live and how they think about issues at a given moment.
4. Emergent technologies present both opportunities and challenges to professionals. Some emerging challenges for strategic communication practices are metadata extraction, face and mood detection and recognition, video manipulation (including ad placements), false news and the increased importance of verified and trusted sources, mixed reality (AR/VR), and AI editing. There is evidence that online videos produced by news organizations are more trusted. Similarly, personalization and news inclusivity are preferred by younger audiences (18-34). The detection of narratives and communities can be achieved through data clustering of tweets and/or Facebook posts as inputs from influential and active users. Additionally, data and analytics on steroids are fuel for artificial intelligence. Developing and using technologies for AI are part of the race to the top between private companies and governments. IPR Director of Research Sarab Kochhar, said that data collaboratives may be an answer, in which the nonprofit sector is a player.
5. Not all is lost with the fake wave. Traditional news media may benefit from the fake (false) news phenomenon, and subsequently, mistrust in social media and random web apps as sources of reliable information may increase. Furthermore, lack of trust in organizations may be negatively affecting trust in capitalism. Corporations can’t continue running their businesses without having environmental preservation at their core mission. The CCO or CSRO and the CFO (aka Chief Value Officer or CVO) are drivers of integrated reporting. Value creation is a sustainable manner, and intangible assets have become a much greater proportion of the balance sheet.
6. The Nordic economic model translated into equality and social welfare. The model is based on trust, comprehensive welfare, investment in human capital and labor market institutions. Trust is achieved through openness and transparency, and when it fails, democracy fails with it. Communication becomes the leading change agent.
7. The entire house should be in order. The aim of internal communication should be to engage employees (associates) as active business partners. Co-workers need to feel that they are part of the conversation. Corporate culture guides organizational interactions and should focus on people, how they are welcome and how they are valued. It is time for associates to stand up and be organizational leaders.
8. Resiliency is a valuable trait. We can be individually strong, but we should also support each other during crises. In complex situations, we must keep the welfare of staff in mind. Communication professionals face competing needs. On one hand, they must quickly release information. On the other hand, they must be accurate and reduce uncertainty. These needs may conflict with other units inside or outside the organization. Be open about seeking help from colleagues and media during sudden events because a small communication team can’t handle them. Public safety and supporting the victims are priorities. Shared positions and actions via Twitter may be needed before addressing media requests. Gathering information to get it right is always a priority, but immediacy pressures the timelines.
9. Creative strategies and experiences stand out. Volvo thought outside of the box when it introduced its electro-mobility mass transportation that provide automation in transit. Some of the tactics they deployed included a bus stop inside a library, a poetry jamboree in a public bus, producing a then unknown (the bus stunt made her a social media sensation) street songwriter’s music video in a bus in motion, gathering of city mayors in Mexico City for a ride, and experiential trade shows. These tactics built partnerships and attracted significant media coverage and social media engagement. Simple visuals explain the advantage of the change and experiential tactics (audio recording in buses) engage citizens and social media users. Brand differentiation emphasizes safety, quality, and environment.
10. Professionals must increase understanding of complex issues. Designing sustainable/smart cities is possible with a circular economy and integrated technological solutions. User interface, open data-innovation, and engagement programs are essential for success. From urbanism future to human survival, food sources was discussed as essential for the preservation of the world we know. What are healthy and sustainable foods? To achieving systemic change, EAT focuses on engaging decision makers and fostering collaboration around an integrated food and environment agenda.
11. Where one sees national divisions, another sees unity deficit. Natura sees the political polarization of Brazil as a communication opportunity to unite the country under a global environmental mindset. The Brazilian multinational bases its business in biodiversity and community. In 2017, it acquired The Body Shop and plans to extend its communication focus to other world locations.
12. Photographs can be used as comparative data. Most what we see in the media are extraordinary events shaping our worldview. Most people learn about world challenges through visuals found in traditional and emergent media. The Gapminder Foundation uses sets of pictures, videos and interviews to compare income distribution and lifestyles across nations. They gather big data to explain the significant challenges the world faces and analyze the significant gaps in how people understand those challenges. Are we being effective in communicating world challenges, consequences and potential solutions?
I don’t know if these insights are different from what we discuss in the United States or Ghana, but I am confident that we are achieving a common understanding of the challenges public relations and communication management faces locally and globally.
Juan-Carlos Molleda, Ph.D., is an IPR Trustee & Edwin L. Artzt Dean and Professor of the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. Follow him on Twitter @GlobalPRMolleda.