How to navigate the four trends of modern public relations

The Thoughts I Shared at the Institute for Public Relations Ceremony.

Yesterday evening the Institute for Public Relations (IPR) awarded me the Alexander Hamilton Medal.

When I heard that I was going to be first non-U.S. recipient of this prestigious award I was surprised, humbled, grateful and proud.

Giants of public relations, Dan Edelman, Harold Burson, Marilyn Laurie and Bill Nielsen have received this medal.

And now me. A Swede. I worked from 1977 to 1989 for UPI and Reuters as a foreign correspondent, bureau chief and news editor in Europe and Latin America. Later I was COO at three large issues-rich corporations, Sandoz/Novartis, ABB and Shell, helping 11 CEOs and six chairmen. I have been with Edelman since 2011. All in all – lots of ups, some downs, very few so-so moments.

As I prepared my acceptance remarks, I felt compelled to reflect on the role of PR. How is our discipline helping corporations navigate a changing and more challenging societal landscape? What are some of today’s shaping trends?

Let me pick out four trends:

We live with more democratized media in a much flatter world. That means audience and message fragmentation and a loss of controllable channels, mirrored by weakened institutional authority. Trust crumbles and leadership becomes more difficult.

Today our clients’ story is really their stakeholders’ story. We are going from a world of “we are what they know” to “we are what they say and do about us.” Can you co-create a likeable, shareable narrative?

To adapt a line we all know: “It’s relationships, stupid!” As we devise ways to help corporations build relationships, it is the context of their stakeholders that really matters. Sounds simple. But try and talk a CEO through that thought. Companies need to learn to better involve, engage and partner with stakeholders. How can leaders become more inclusive?

Purpose rules. In a world of disputed leadership and empowered consumer citizens, companies need to act based on a very clear purpose in order to plot their way. Behavior is lived purpose. How we are is who we are.

So, organizational leaders must have three kinds of intelligence to thrive in the world of today and tomorrow: a high IQ, a solid EQ (emotional intelligence) and an outstanding SQ.

We know what IQ and EQ stand for, but what’s SQ? It is what I call “societal intelligence,” the ability to really understand what drives opinion in society and how to navigate in a stakeholder world. Do we help corporations develop high-SQ leaders?

Stitching all this together is the challenge and privilege of PR. So, how do we as heads of communications best help business leaders lead?

First and foremost, we help them think things through. We add context, depth, nuance and contrarian views to often very linear decision-making processes.

A CCO’s job is about culture, brand, purpose, reputation, the narrative and stakeholder engagement. It is about how to shape behaviors, both our behaviors and that of others. The accomplished CCO is the integrator of strategic imperatives and societal context.

And the job of us as PR counselors is to help the CCO think through his or her challenges.

It is something that many Edelman people are really good at. I am proud to be a part of this vibrant firm, working with people I like on things that I care about, or that still puzzle me.