Gaining Respect Through Corporate Diplomacy

12 years ago

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Robert W. Grupp has taken the concept of Public Diplomacy in Public Relations as a theme for exploration during his year as IPRA President. Here he explains why.



As I begin my year as IPRA President, I find myself reflecting on our association’s founders, who, not surprisingly, had the highest ideals. They wanted to use public relations to help the world reunite after world war – geographically, culturally and economically, and our early leaders did contribute mightily to that objective.

These public relations pioneers from various nations shared a vision; use our profession to foster understanding of common interests and build respect for cultures and contributions by people across a dramatically changed world. They defined public relations by three values: truth, dialogue and concern for the societies served.

Today, some fifty-three years later, IPRA pursues a similar vision even as we operate in new global markets that are growing and evolving rapidly. How can we public relations practitioners help our businesses, our organizations and our clients be successful in this wide-open, vastly more interconnected world?

Public diplomats

I suggest the answer is called “public diplomacy” or better, “corporate diplomacy.” The IPRA founders were public diplomats – not official ones. By their actions, they used communications and their relationship skills to build respect for their own and for other countries’ cultures and contributions.

That’s exactly what we public relations professionals are called to do in our world, in our time: to be public diplomats. Not official ones, in the context of state-to-state diplomacy, but instead, “everyday diplomats,” on the job, in business, with a public purpose. We have an enormous opportunity for greater impact; indeed, I believe we have a professional obligation to engage in public diplomacy and articulate solutions for better global understanding and respect.

There’s a gem of ancient Chinese wisdom which says, “Unless we change direction, we’re likely to end up where we are headed.” As I see it, our job in public relations is to help make sure our clients and companies are headed in the right direction.

Corporate diplomacy means at least two things. It means a company embeds the value of collaboration deeply into its operations and practices; and it means the company extends the reach of its relationships to include groups, cultures, organizations, even governments, which don’t necessarily involve the company or client directly but which ultimately affect the sustainability of the business.

Connect and convince

Is this important? Only if we want to do what our companies and clients hire us to do: to connect, convince and help them make money – reliably and ethically. To help them be successful.

A recent study showed that chief executives see senior public relations leaders as being more influential today than ever before. The trend is toward greater integration of public relations into the formation of strategy. Most CEOs surveyed expect their senior communications leaders to also possess strong business expertise.

By being strategic partners, we can help our CEOs realize the potential of not just communications, but of reputation – of public diplomacy.

Steering change

To do that, we need to help steer the direction of change, and do so for some very apparent reasons. The type of change taking place in the world today was unimaginable only a short time ago:

• rapid economic growth (in all new places)
• globalization (like it or not)
• pressure to sustain the environment we live in
• and repairing social and political divisions worldwide.

For me, it has involved traveling to Sydney to explain why my company’s bid to acquire a revolutionary treatment for liver cancer was fairly priced, in the mutual best interests of Australian, North American and European patient markets, and not usurping the best of Australia’s fledging biotechnology industry.

And collaborating with Japanese colleagues on the launch there of a new medicine to treat severe cancer pain. That collaboration took place in a culture where people have lived for centuries with unique concepts of illness, and where decisions about using technological advances to impact the quality of living and dying can be dramatically different from our own.

Fundamental respect

What’s diplomatic about these examples? Operating with a fundamental respect for another country’s culture and contributions. Leveraging my client’s product strength and research competencies in a way that leads to rewards for the company – as well as respect from partners and consumers.

Corporate diplomacy, we could say, comes out of the real struggles of business to adapt to the needs of society. The task, in other words, is not just to identify the differences between countries but to understand which ones matter the most in the industry of interest to you and your clients.

When we talk corporate diplomacy, I believe we’re talking about what public relations people do best.

When I last traveled in China, I met many young Chinese who were saying, “Well, Mr. Grupp, the PR practices you’re talking about, many of which originated in U.S., are great, and we use them. But you know what: they only work 60 percent of the time here in China. The other 40 percent of what we need to do in China has to be culturally specific. What do you think those other practices are?”

I said, “That’s a fascinating question. And that’s for you to figure out, in China!”

Now I ask: What is the other 40 percent that public relations has to do in tomorrow’s companies and in the world? To what extent does it include corporate diplomacy?

Beijing World Congress

We intend to begin answering these and other questions when we assemble at The IPRA 2008 Public Relations World Congress in Beijing 13-15 November.

How do we convince the CEO that building a company’s reputation with broader diplomatic reach is good for business? How do we distinguish between corporate diplomacy and corporate social responsibility? What are the values that sustain the long-term corporate health of the organization? What does tomorrow’s company need to be – to be successful?

I look forward to continuing this discussion throughout the year.


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The Author

Robert W. Grupp

Robert W. Grupp is President at Grupp Global Partners LLC, a management consultancy with a strategic focus on corporate communications and international public relations. Grupp also is Adjunct Lecturer at the University of Florida where he teaches Global Strategic Communications in the Master's Degree Program in the College of Journalism and Communications.

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