Shaping the Future of Public Relations – Notes from ICCO Global Summit, 2018

Public Relations professionals Akshita Agrawal and Suhas Tadas won the Young Pride Challenge for 2018 and as part of the prize got a chance to attend the ICCO Global Summit 2018 in Dublin, Ireland, courtesy ICCO. Here are some of the learning and experiences they shared upon their return. 

Making Public Relations a Boardroom Function

Consider two situations: One where a company tries to put a good face after a bad action has been taken, and one where the right actions automatically lead to the right image.

That is the difference when a public relations’ professional plays an integrated role in the Boardroom, serving as a chief advisor to the CEO.

It is said, you may have a good story, but a good story not told is not heard, and public relations is not an exception. The role of public relations cannot be undermined, and necessary steps need to be taken to enhance the positioning of the industry.

Today, public relations has earned its seat in the boardroom. In the current complex socio-economic and political situation in which businesses operate, public relations should not undermine the role it plays. John Saunders, President & CEO at FleishmanHillard shares,

Public relations’ professionals are no longer just crafters of messages but are brand navigators. PR is now guiding companies through how they’re going to act, instead of just advising on messages and channels. And that shift opens the door for more disruption.

I truly believe that we bring the emotional quotient to the equation as we are able to communicate with the feelings and beliefs of the people.
To quote Aedhmar Hynes,

Aedhmar Hynes speaking at ICCO Global Summit

Aedhmar Hynes speaking at ICCO Global Summit

Technology, communications and marketing matter, but leaders must put “human” at the heart of business to ensure connectivity with consumers and employees.

And it is this ‘intelligence’, that allows us to play a significant role in equipping CEOs with the relevant intel. There are more than enough surveys to prove that an audience or a customer base respects CEOs who have an opinion. In fact, according to the Edelman Survey of 2018, 56% of people who participated in the survey said that they have no respect for CEOs who were silent on issues. This builds a strong case for the role of public relations in the boardroom.

Gone are the days when an organisation could afford a lag between the CEO’s decision and the communication outcome. A CEO needs to rely on advisors to communicate his/her opinion on the social, political and cultural issues especially those related to their own practices, cultures and values. This gap can be bridged only by a public relations’ professional in the boardroom, as an extension to the board members. Further, this helps a CEO lead with purpose and galvanise employees.

One cannot ignore that we live in a society with high probability of miscommunication and fake news. Hearing Alex Aiken speak about the challenges of fake news and miscommunication being real, and that company representatives may be less trusted than the people on the streets, the role of a public relations professional becomes the key to brand reputation. We know these people on the streets and can play an important role in helping brands restore their reputation especially in the 21st century market realities.

Barri Rafferty brings an excellent point in this regards- that to be true to the brand, and then there’s no risk to creativity.

The role of a public relations’ professional becomes highly relevant for companies communicating in a regulated environment where one needs to devise new ways of communication. As we accept that traditional media outreach may not be the best way to communicate in every situation, and sometimes we have to resort to multi-stakeholder engagement, the role of PR professionals in the boardroom becomes crucial. As extension, this becomes relevant in other industries also – say the development sector. Humanising stories is important to bridge the emotional gap, and mobilise communities towards the donations.

Academic interventions in public relations will help bridge the current gap and build a case for representation in the Boardroom. But everything starts with the belief – that the role we play is strategic and indispensable.

As they say… There’s no better time to be in public relations than today! And that we are cool because of we are the center of everything!

— Akshita Agrawal, Public Relations Consultant, The PRactice

A Ringside View of the Riveting Discourse on ‘Shaping the Future of Public Relations’

It’s often said that the ringside view is the best place to be when witnessing a great sporting spectacle. You are as close to the action as is possible for soaking in the experience and yet detached enough to evaluate the action unfolding before you. You got to be lucky and lucky with means to enjoy such a view. The International Communications Consultancies Organisations (ICCO) Global Summit in Dublin was one such unforgettable bout of ideas tabled by global superstars of the public relations business on shaping the future of PR.

 The Arena: Clontarf Castle, Dublin, Ireland

When some of world’s senior most communications professionals and luminaries gather at a place to discuss the future of the profession, it is nothing short of an arena buzzing with intellectual energy. Clontarf Castle, on the north of iconic river Liffey in Dublin, with blend of medieval architecture and modern amenities provided the perfect venue for hosting the ICCO global summit. The imposing archway, tall towers and the castle itself lent a sense of importance to the summit and I was particularly taken in by the coincidence of the situation – PR profession like the Clontarf Castle has a glorious legacy but is looking to adapt to the changing needs of the modern times.

The Spectacle: ICCO Summit 2018 on “Shaping the Future of Public Relations”

As a practicing public relations professional in India, I have seen the business change in the course of last 6 – 7 years. The three-way relationship between Consultancy-Client-Consumer has evolved and become very pronounced thanks to proliferation of instant information. One-way asymmetric communication is now passe (characterised by use of traditional media to push information), “engagement” is the buzzword. Never before has a consumer wielded so much influence on how public relations operates and moves from being a gatekeeper of information to facilitator of engagement. In this dynamic flux, one view has gained much prominence – Public Relations needs to be future ready to stay relevant.

John Saunders speaking at ICCO Global Summit

John Saunders speaking at ICCO Global Summit

This is why this year’s ICCO agenda to discuss ways to shape future of public relations was so exciting. It sought to stir a debate on what the profession needs and brought together some of world’s finest PR minds to initiate the discourse. As a young PR professional with modest achievements as yet to boast off, I was particularly thrilled and yet intimidated to be in the midst of stellar group of professionals and hear them lay out the blueprint for continued success. Here are some pointers I have taken back from listening to John Saunders, Global CEO of FleishmanHillard, Aedhmar Hynes, Global CEO, Text100, Matthew Harrington, Global COO, Edelman, Barri Rafferty, Global CEO and President, Ketchum, Anne-Marie Curran, Managing Director, Drury Porter Novelli and Francis Ingham, Chief Executive, ICCO among others.

  • We must be the brand navigators for our clients – guide companies on how they will act and not just their messaging and channels.
  • Neutrality is not an an option anymore. Consumers expect companies to take a stand on important social, economic and political issues. It is our job as PR professionals to help clients to navigate this expectation with their reputation unharmed.
  • There is no “silver bullet” to overcoming talent deficit, PR firms will have to invest in skilling their employees to function in 21st century market realities.
  • PR must not get caught up in overselling the social media to clients. It is important to remember that social media did not create communities, it only helped expand our innate need to socialise. So we ought to focus on psychology side of it and not sway to its technological possibilities.
  • Lastly, and most importantly, marrying experience with engagement will be at the heart of maintaining consumer interest in a brand.

The Winner: Public Relations Profession

In the course of two days, I had the distinct pleasure of listening to who’s who of global PR business offer their assessment of the profession and solutions to issues plaguing our profession. While some of the issues like gender inequality in PR need further discussion, it was riveting to say the least and Public Relations today is richer as a result of this confluence of ideas. I will cherish the many fan-boy moments I had  interacting with PR superstars during the course of ICCO Summit 2018.

— Suhas Tadas, Senior Client Operations Lead, The PRactice

The views expressed here are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of Reputation Today.

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Reputation Today is India’s only print magazine for Public Relations and Corporate Communications professionals. It is the official magazine of PRAXIS - India’s largest offsite summit for Public Relations and Corporate Communications.

2 Comments on "Shaping the Future of Public Relations – Notes from ICCO Global Summit, 2018"

  1. Very nice articles Akshita and Suhas. Insightful and informative. I’ve always been advocating in the forums I get to speak on that we need to be on the Board, we need to have a seat on the leadership team. We are getting there, if not already.

  2. PR needs to de-coupled from managing a situation to becoming guiding principle for company’s engagement with people. So boardroom seat is a stepnin that direction. I agree.

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