Public Relations Takes on the World’s Problems at BledCom

It’s no bad idea to escape to the mountains to reflect on the world’s problems. World leaders have done this for years at the World Economic Forum’s meetings in Davos, Switzerland, and public relations leaders and researchers have, for 25 years now, decamped to Bled, Slovenia for an annual international public relations research symposium, BledCom.

A run through of BledCom topics over the years shows how these have mirrored and anticipated developments in public relations. This year, the conference’s silver anniversary, is no exception – BledCom 2018 deals with A World in Crisis: The Role of Public Relations (www.bledcom.com).

Planned for July 5 to 7, this year’s symposium is broad in its international reach – 172 contributors from 35 countries – and ahead of the curve in an important way.

Practitioners attending in the past have been surprised by the number of practical insights that they can take away from what may seem a long collection of academic and theoretical topics.

And here’s an important pointer in this year’s topic. CIPR’s president, Sarah Hall, who will be speaking at this year’s conference, has placed an emphasis on public relations as a strategic management function. The just published State of the Profession Report for 2018 in the UK (https://bit.ly/2pNBeXu) picks up on this to focus on a continuing challenge: how to establish public relations as an essential source of board level advice. Respondents to the study, as last year, identified underrepresentation at board level as the biggest challenge facing the industry.

The question begged by BledCom’s programme for this year is this – what contribution can public relations really make to solving high level problems?

The State of the Profession study shows that the concerns of most practitioners are mainly tactical, and technical and they – with some, but not so many exceptions – need to develop the skills, knowledge and capabilities to be taken seriously as senior level advisers.

In addition to developing higher level management skills, the practice also needs to turn to the problems that it can – and should – make a contribution towards solving.

There are, as the BledCom programme makes clear, no shortage of these. Current events present decision-makers with a world that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (we’re stuck in the UK in the middle of such as problem, Brexit, which demonstrates all these features).

Problems on which we should be developing positions, ahead of being asked by clients and employers for advice on how to deal with tthem, include:

• Dishonesty and misuse of information in public life – and the consequences of this

• Inter-group and inter-generational conflict

• Breakdown in rules governing relationships (in international relations, or between business community and the wider community)

• The use of data relating to individuals and groups

A continuing practical difficulty for public relations is that the resources to develop positions on these issues are not readily available. The industry does not invest enough in research that would provide solid foundations for advice.

This is where gatherings of researchers such as BledCom show their value to practice. Discussions at Bled – and of course Davos – feed in to our understanding of the problems we face.

As Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the Davos World Economic Forum said earlier this year (https://bit.ly/2GtOhI6), “leadership in a fractured world means looking beyond the current discord to a new, shared future,” working towards this through “collaboration between stakeholders.”

Territory for public relations to claim…

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Dr Jon White, FCIPR, is a consultant and visiting professor at Henley Business School and Cardiff University's School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies (JOMEC).

Posted in Editor's Picks  Public Relations

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