At the start of an undergraduate course, we pose a straightforward question: what is PR?
With more advanced students, we progress to what is the purpose of PR? These discussions can often become rather abstract and idealistic.
Now, there is a more pressing big question facing all in the business: how can we prove the value of PR?
There has been a deep recession; many European countries are facing painful cuts in public spending. Political rhetoric in the UK equates PR jobs with waste and propaganda.
So this is a time for industry leaders to defend PR by making a clear statement of the value it provides to organisations and society. It's a discussion that goes well beyond debates about evaluation and goes to the heart of organisational purpose and sustainability.
Are we worth it? Can we identify the universal value delivered by the public relations function?
This is a preamble to introduce The Stockholm Accords, agreed in June 2010. More important than the text itself is the narrative. In the words of its objective, it is a 'conscious and planned effort to argue the value of public relations…. The end result of this effort is to enhance and reinforce the value proposition of our profession to society and organizations, thus improving our licence to operate on both a global and a local level.'
From the middle of the twentieth century, systems theory was adapted from science via management studies as a framework for explaining the organisational role of public relations. By the end of the century, we had stakeholder theory and the Tomorrow's Company report (which gave us the concept of 'licence to operate'). In the early twenty-first century, we're using the language of sustainability.
As the output of a committee – most of whom do not have English as a first language – the Stockholm Accords are no literary masterpiece. But that's beside the point. We now have an intellectual framework to use as a starting point for a discussion of values and sustainability. It's not the end of the journey, but it's a useful milestone along the way, and progress is being made transparently and cooperatively.
Among the many to have commentated on the Stockholm Accords, Fraser Likely views the text from the perspective of global thought leadership. David Phillips has made a major contribution by asking questions about how we can value relationships and networks.
But the questions remain: Are we worth it? How can we prove it?