Next Practices

13 years, 1 month ago


The ICCO Global Summit, held during October in New Delhi, India, took as its overarching title, Forget Best Practices, Think Next Practices. Ashwani Singla reports.

As always, it was Harold Burson who got it spot-on. For public relations professionals, the key Next Practice is, quite simply, to act as corporate conscience-keepers to the companies we represent.

Delivering the keynote address on "Our Role in the New World" at the ICCO Global Summit in New Delhi last month, he said, "Good communication cannot replace bad strategy." Our role, therefore, will increasingly be defined by the quality of advice we give our clients to enhance their companies’ reputation among stakeholders.

Of course, we have the Enrons and the WorldComs to conclusively prove that it is impossible to sustain clever communication when the underlying strategy of a company is fundamentally flawed. So, as Harold points out, our role as public relations advisors must evolve to fit the new demands on corporations in this globalised world.

Nothing could have proved a more relevant and impactful starting point for the theme of this year’s Summit – "Forget Best Practices, Think Next Practices". Certainly, as those of us who have been in the business for some time can testify, corporate reputation has never been under more intense scrutiny – and threat. Yesterday, companies had to worry only about "shareholders" and the CEO’s talent was often judged by how well he talked up is company’s performance.

Today, CEOs have to worry about multiple "stakeholders" – a wide and amorphous constituency that covers the entire corporate eco-system of employees, suppliers, shareholders, analysts, regulators and NGOs, to name a few.

Plus, globalisation and the worldwide web have changed the rules of the game so radically that the need to sustain and nurture corporate reputation has become that much more challenging.

Climbing The Value Chain

This means that the time for "commodity-type" public relations is over; we need to move up the value chain, as it were, and guide corporate behaviour in meaningful ways – even if its means challenging client briefs.

For the global public relations industry, then, the key Next Practice is to act as strategic advisors and change agents. What does this entail? What challenges does it present to public relations as we know it?

Yann Risz, COO and Founding Partner, The Next Practice, provided some pointers in his thought-provoking presentation. Building on management guru C K Prahalad’s "bottom-of-the pyramid" theory, he provided a masterful illustration of how "Next Practice" corporations can turn social and environmental challenges into business opportunities.

If there was a key takeaway from Yann’s presentation, it was the acute need for public relations professionals to be ahead of the curve in terms of interpreting socio-economic change.

Does that mean we need to become sociologists and economists all rolled into one? Actually, the solution is far simpler, as Esther Dyson, Editor, Release 1.0. CNE Networks, pointed out in the session "Connect, Collaborate and Share: Creating Business Impact". It’s called listening. Not just to clients but to the multiple influencers who shape a corporation’s reputation.

Our globalised world actually makes it easier for us to listen than ever before.

As Helen Ostrowski, Partner and CEO, Porter Novelli, and Aedhmar Hynes, CEO, Text 100 International, pointed out in the session "Tomorrow’s Public Relations Firms, Capabilities and Services", the flattening of the information curve is creating new opportunities for enhanced service delivery and collaboration.

Global Networking

Today’s constant global networking opportunities – of which ICCO’s annual global summit is one prominent example – provides us with the tools to integrate best practices from around the world and localise them for our clients.

In doing this, technology will be a major enabler. I myself am something of a "technology evangelist" and I fully believe in leveraging the power of IT and the Internet to "listen" more effectively to what corporate stakeholders are saying and distil them into powerful advice for our clients.

Certainly, technology and globalisation provide us with an unprecedented opportunity to collaborate seamlessly to enhance our knowledge and service offerings, at the same time driving down the cost-to-serve and thereby creating a measurable business impact.

In fact, I think India provides many exciting opportunities to demonstrate the Next Practice readiness of the public relations industry. It is, as the panel discussion on the Changing Face of India and minister Jairam Ramesh’s speech highlighted, one of the racehorses of the world economy. (The fact that India was the first Asian country to host an ICCO global summit is testimony to that!).

This provides us with the opportunity to leapfrog the evolution of best practices and create a body of Next Practices for the world. Tomorrow’s public relations agency has to evolve into a flexible, agile "listening" organisation. This places increasing pressure on agencies to learn how to manage and retain talent, as the session with Jeff Fuller of Mercer Consulting demonstrated.

Talent, Agility, Flexibility

Jamlin Norgay’s popular presentation "An Odyssey to the top of Everest" highlighted how ignorance and lack of teamwork can ultimately be detrimental, if not downright fatal, to achieving a goal. For us in public relations, the lesson is clear: the quality of talent will determine our ability to be agile and flexible. Indeed, talent management will become critical because, as Advait Kurlekar, consultant to the Summit, pointed out, it is innovation that will make us Next Practice champions.

And finally, what about managing our relationships with clients? Lou Capozzi, Chairman, Publicis Public Relations, and Paul Taaffe, CEO, Hill & Knowlton, discussed, among things, the wisdom or lack thereof of exiting certain client relationships – a point that, inevitably, resonated with the audience. No doubt, both sides of the argument have their merits.

For myself , I would be more inclined to take Sadguru Jaggi Vasudev’s advice on acquiring Inner Peace. "If you cannot manage your mind or body, how can you manage anything else," the Sadguru said. Ultimately, that may be the Next Practice for most of us!



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The Author

Ashwani Singla

Ashwani Singla, Founding Managing Partner, Astrum.

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