Working paper for Listening Group

Please find attached the latest thinking from the Listening Group: working paper (first draft). These are working documents, thoughts and views are welcomed.

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14 Responses to Working paper for Listening Group

  1. Pingback: The Melbourne Mandate Draft statement | The Melbourne Mandate

  2. Pamela says:

    Great reading these insightful comments. I to am uncomfortable about simply doing what the public or a public wants us to do, that’s not what we’re paid for. So the phrase ‘striving to align with the public interest’ in the first sentence is not ideal. Would something less prescriptive like ‘recognise the legitimate concerns’ rather than ‘align’ work?

    Likewise under implementation I suggest moving point 3:

    Recognise their dual roles of seeking to achieve their organisation’s business objectives; while simultaneously valuing community concerns and aspirations and ensuring they are heard and considered within their organisation.

    up to point 1.


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  4. I have a big issue with the first sentence:

    “The Melbourne Mandate aims to enhance and affirm the central role of Public Relations and
    Communication Management in organizational success”.

    The idea that there is a practice which has the facility for Communication Management is astonishing and pretty old fashioned.

    Communication is central to the survival of much of life. All of it as far as I am aware.

    The arrogance of Homo-sapiens to believe it can manage even the discourse of humans is not borne out by history.

    Worse than that, the capability to be able to even influence communication, dialogue and discourse is shrinking by the second.

    The nature of semantic capabilities is now such that radical transparency is very real. Some, such as professor John White do not see it as a threat. Most practitioners, I suspect do. In either case, the practice of Public Relations will need to recognise this significant change in the way people and machines can and will interact now and in the next very few years.

    Next, I am concerned about “the key role of the public relations industry, and individual practitioners, is not just to communicate but also to listen”. The practitioner capable of communicating without a reasonable understanding of the values of the organisational constituency is so slim as to be non-existent.

    Some practitioners may imagine their divinity but few can second guess the values and the range of mutual values that may form a nexus and thereby relationships between organisations and their value holders.

    Of course, the very idea that stakeholder theory can have any part in Public Relations, practice, professionalism or industry is an affront to those who Grunig once might have called ‘non-publics’ and who do have a commonality of values.

    Of course, it should be the role of the practitioner to integrate the implications of expectations into organisational decision-making and operations. In a time of ubiquitous communication, the exposure of organisational values will eventually cross those of the wider constituency. At such a time, with or without the knowledge or connivance of the organisation there will be an opportunity for the formation of a nexus of values, namely a relationship, for good or ill.

    In the past, this may have been a more remote eventuality and of little consequence. In a time of mass conversation the dynamic is different. This means that the PR industry has to both catch up and keep up.

    ‘Listening’ is like motherhood and apple pie, a good thing. If practitioners and organisations imagine they can survive in isolation to the conversational swell around them more fool them. We do not need to be concerned for their understanding. They have a small chance of survival.

    While companies are barred from using the Bing search RSS facility, the public is not. This means that there is very little that is exposed online, even, supposedly to a small and protected minority, that will remain confidential.

    The Gregory concepts of internet transparency, porosity and agency are well and in good health.

    Striving to ensure organisations align their organisational values with the whole world is not a good idea. Striving to identify a constructive nexus of values with organisational constituents is how relationships are formed (see Amaral) and surely must be the great understanding and strength public relations brings to its clientele.

    This overworked word ‘trust’ does need to be looked at much more closely.

    Of course people look to trust in organizations. We can even trust some vendors to try and rip us off. But I don’t think this is what is meant here. Understanding and appreciation of values is probably what is meant. The PR profession does not have to follow the fashions of hard pressed politicians in the language it uses. After all, not many of us run banks or face constituents who use them in the ballot box!

    Relationships are formed at the nexus of values. The practitioner who is able to identify the values of an organisation and use such knowledge to build effective relationships will be all powerful in the organisation.

    The rest is a matter of time before PR takes its place in leading organisational management.

  5. Janet Comeau says:

    I think the question of definitions is more fundamental – the scope of public relations (whether practice, discipline or even profession) is narrower than that of organizational communications which could be defined as broader – spanning multiple disciplines such as investor relations, marketing, employee comms, etc. To apply the term PR generically to these discussions implies a somewhat exclusive focus on an organization’s public stakeholders (generally external). Should we not start with developing consistent terminology for describing the profession and its disciplines that is inclusive of all practioners?

    • toni muzi falconi says:

      in my view, the public in public relations does not relate to external publics, but to all the organization’s influential publics (frm consumers to empoyees, investors to suppliers etc..) and the term relationsh relates to relationships with such publics, that are also developed through communication. I agree instead wih the last sentence.

  6. Marianne Sison says:

    The first draft is a good start but I wondered whether we should include a statement on how practitioners should “facilitate (or lead) the establishment of platforms that enable authentic and meaningful listening practices between stakeholder groups”. Most of us are already aware of the power imbalances that exist between groups so I think we would be doing ourselves a disservice if we only operate within frameworks where we listen to the elite or those with the ‘stronger’ voices, and not do anything to address these power imbalances. As communication practitioners and scholars, we have the capacity to create not only the culture but also the frameworks for authentic, meaningful listening across a wider group of stakeholders.

  7. When reading the draft, it immediately reminded me of the – to my judgement – fruitless discussion of the PRSA on their “new” definition of PR.

    For example there is a fundamental difference between Noel´s first proposal:
    “Striving to align organisational values and strategies with the public’s interests.”
    “Striving to ensure organisations align their organisational strategy, values and operations with the public interest.”

    There is no single, unified public interest, while their are many public’s interests. No one single organization – not even Apple 😉 – serves all these publics. In a competitive econonomy it´s the very nature of any organization to not serve all publics, while doing its best to serve its publics

    Almost equally uncomfortable I am with “Encouraging the creation of organisational and communication visions based on building trust through mutually beneficial relationships with stakeholders and the wider community.” Again, in a competitive economy, it impossible to create “mutually beneficial relationships”, at least with a wider community, as competitors are an integral part of that community – call it market -, and there is no possible way that competitors have mutually beneficial relationships other than a healthy competition, which forces them to do their best in order to win over the other.

  8. toni muzi falconi says:

    Noel, as much as I appreciate your witty and amusing remarks on the reasons why public relations is not a profession, they hardly justify the use of the term industry.
    As Harold Burson, who seems to share some of your caveats in defining public relations as a full profession, said to me in an interview only last week: ‘we could certanly call it a discipline or a practice’. Why not practice in this context?

    As you correctly and wittily say we must listen: if you do that, wherever you go, you will find that industry evokes highly different actions from what we normally do, and that the only possible and acceptable relationship is with the demand/offer marketplace for our services.

    Having said this, I also add that in many countries around the world (12 at the moment) public relations is regulated by the State as a profession, and in other there are ongoing and current debates on possible regulation procedures, our practice is termed as a profession.

    The body of knowledge of the sociology of professions indicates that a profession implies a body of knowledge, a professional association, an ethics code and ongoing professional university education and lifelong learning. The only missing element is institutional recognition.
    Massage, agopuncture, athetics et alia are all professions, for example.
    And, in reference to your elegant point on the world’s oldest profession I remark that from a however hateful and macho perspective, when Adam advocated God to receive a companion, he was doing public relations, well before Eve came about to generate what is called the oldest profession (and a profession it is…).

    • noelturnbull says:

      Practice and discipline – as a reference to the study of what we practice – are very good ways of describing what we do and would support the appropriate amendments.
      I must say I didn’t know massage had been recognised as profession although those who do it as part of physiotherapy must have academic qualifications. I suppose there are also academic qualifications chiropractors fought a long and unsuccessful defamation action against Simon Singh on some claims he made about the scientific rigour of that discipline.
      Probably history will judge the question of whether public relations is a profession or not. I do note that among younger practitioners over the past decade or so the issue is not at all significant, particularly in comparison as it was to those engaged in public relations from the 1960s.

  9. noelturnbull says:

    Thank you for these comments. I understand the sensitivity in some PR and communications circles of using or not using the term ‘profession’ to describe the status of practitioners and their discipline. Also recognise that many of our industry bodies assert that PR is a profession and use the term regularly. The problem is that, in the context of listening, we need to take into account the reality of what other people think. Many practitioners, me included, don’t see PR as profession in the strict sense of the word. We aspire to be ‘professional’ just as many other occupations and trades aspire to be professional in what they do. The practice has also been ‘professionalised’ because of academic research and continuing professional education. However, we have to face the unfortunate reality that people outside our industry don’t regard us as part of a profession nor do we have the same constraints as professions such as medicine, law and accounting. If we want to be seen as ‘listening’ we cannot ignore the fact that majority opinion sees us rather unfavourably and would regard the suggestion that we are a ‘profession’ as a bit of joke along the lines of the proverbial comments about the ‘oldest profession’. That is sad but it would be remiss of us not to ‘listen’ to the sentiment and understand it. Noel Turnbull

  10. toni muzi falconi says:

    I have a few comments:
    -the term industry refers, in my view, to the space where pr services demand meet pr services offer..i.e. the market. An organization’s listening culture is only indirectly related. Would prefer that the term profession be used;
    -listening is the principal component of our profession and therefore also of communication (to communicate implies subjects who listen and exchange), so I would rephrase the sentence that says: —-is not just to communicate but also to listen to stakeholders and to be their voices within organisations.
    -also, I hardly agree that professionals should -per se- be the voices of stakeholders within the organisation. Professionals should, besides many other things, listen to stakeholder expectations and interpret them to the organization so that these expectations may be considered in the decision making process thus helping reduce the times of implementation.

    The Stockholm Accords, back in 2010, explicitely called for professionals to activate a listening culture in their organizations and that was one of their leading features.
    The Melbourne Mandate, in my view, is a continuation f that effort and in fact a further rationalization.

    It is relevant that professionals understand the implications of what listening is, before they try to transfer the concept to the rest of the organization.
    Here is an attempt:
    a. listening is, as said, the major component of communication (and this is why it is relevant for public relations);
    b. there are many diferent levels of listening: desk analysis, quali, quantitative and qualiquantilive opinion and behavioral research, boundary spanning, participant observation, active participation.
    c. when listening, professionals let go their preconceived ideas, bias, notions, principles and stereotypes; objectively they collect all available data and, putting themselves in the shoes of the interlocutor, ensure a full comprehension of those data ;
    d. only when they move to the interpretative phase do they step back into their own conceptual frame and analyse the implications for the organization;
    e. they then report the implications to management suggesting -where possible, feasable and relevant- that the decision making process consider the collected data.
    These could be some of the pillars of an organization’s listening culture, adding value to the organization’s decision making process.

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