Earlier this month at London’s historic Reform Club, Bill Nielsen (retired Corporate Vice President for Johnson & Johnson and past Chair of the Institute for Public Relations) delivered the International Distinguished Lecture to a sell-out crowd of European public relations leaders.

Nielsen believes that the public relations profession itself needs a core statement of what we value and the responsibilities we own. This would be something very different from a code of ethics, or a list of do’s and don’ts. Rather, Bill envisions a declaration “of what we fundamentally believe and value, and the responsibilities we are prepared to assume.”

He went on to outline four responsibility platforms, each related to a broad constituent group. First – and highest – are the publics or audiences with whom we communicate for awareness, understanding, support and action. Second are the clients that we serve as honest advocates. Third come the media, and all parties who seek to exercise freedom of inquiry and expression. And fourth, our own profession.

“Clearly, we have a responsibility to advance understanding of the legitimacy of our function, what we value, the principles that guide our practice and the ethical standards we embrace,” he said.

Take a look at the speech yourself and let me know what you think.

Frank Ovaitt
President and CEO
Institute for Public Relations

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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4 thoughts on “The Singular Character of Public Relations

  1. I entirely support Bill’s call for action and wonder if -rather than coffee-table chats , conferences, researches….about our supposed leadership role in managing our employer/client csr programs (not in this institute of course..)- we shouldn’t first of all ensure that organizations we work with or for communicate responsibly (and… beginning with our own pr or communication departments.. but not stopping there). The issue of responsible communication is obviously separate from that of csr, and, once the concept is well defined, it is certainly not difficult to convince our peers in organizations that we should ‘own’ it. This would extend a monitoring role to all communicative behaviours of the organization, in recognition of the fact that any, even the most powerful communication dept, cannot be held resoonsible for more that 15% of any organizations communicative behaviours. A convincing methodology to analyse and monitor the responsibility of an organization’s communicative behaviour, with its detailed kpi’s -developing from the gri’s and boston college and other general guidelines- could certainly give way to a fourth leg of triple bottom line reports….as it is only obvious that stakeholder expectations are met not only by responsible financial, environmental and social behaviours but also, by an organization’s pervasive communicative behaviours…..

  2. I agree with Bill on several fronts. In particular, I think that many public relations practitioners focus on compliance and as such become what I call ‘agents of corporate compliance’. My recent research with Australian practitioners reflected this and perhaps we could challenge ourselves, educators and practitioners alike, to become what I call ‘agents of critical conscience’.

  3. I also agree on the clarity and foresight expressed in that speech. I think Bill’s proposed declaration of values has merit and we at the Global Allaince would like to continue the discussion-with Bill’s permission- with our 60 partner organisations to see if there is an appetite for making the declaration a universal one.

  4. As usual I think Bill is way out in front of all of us with a clear vision of not where we might go, but where we must go in the future. His concept of responsibility puts all other questions about the practice of public relations squarely on each of our shoulders—especially the issues of trust, credibility and ethics in what we do and say. Hats off to Bill and we can hope that others will join him in signing on to these important principles of value.

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