Why PR is fully embracing the 'Age of Dialogue' - by Sunil John

(As appeared in Campaign Middle East, issue dated April 1, 2012)

Over three days in March, Public Relations as an industry came of age in the Middle East.

Held in Dubai between March 13-15th, the 20th Public Relations Word Congress was a landmark event, and not only because this was the first time this prestigious was summit held in the region. The relevance of the Congress’s theme, From the Arab Street to Wall Street, Communications in the Age of Dialogue, addressed the emergence of globalised protest and the rise of social media as a communications phenomenon; realities as valid in today’s Middle East as they are in the US or Europe.    

The event concluded with the reading of the “Dubai Declaration”, a short, concise roadmap outlining the way ahead for PR Practitioners the world over. 

Informed by the debates and presentations over the three days of the Congress, The Dubai Declaration rests on four key pillars, which I would like to explain in a little detail.  

The first pillar encourages us to foster the development of a culture of dialogue among stakeholders. The mutual exchange of ideas and the promotion of dialogue among all stakeholders, including but not limited to clients, media and civil society, will encourage open and transparent communications, which will in turn support the development of shared interests and the greater good of society.

The second pillar at first glance seems obvious. It calls on the industry to recognise and utilise digital communications in a responsible and effective way. By this, we mean we must all look beyond the traditional, top-down communications that have been encouraged by traditional channels, and embrace the new era of dialogue that the digital era has created.

The third pillar is one that is particularly relevant for the industry in the Middle East. The industry must strive to contribute to the development of young professionals and to the profession.

The final pillar relates to the uncomfortable truth that the today’s world is one of mistrust.  We live in an era where public trust in companies, governments, the media, and even our own industry, has been eroded. Effective public relations will be essential to rebuilding that trust. That’s why this critical pillar of the declaration relates to our own house: we must observe and uphold the IPRA Code of Conduct. The IPRA code sets out the ethical and professional standards to which all PR practitioners should adhere.

Harold Burson, the 91 year old founder chairman of Burson-Marsteller concluded his presentation with the pronouncement that, for the PR industry, “the best years are yet to come”.

It is my belief that by adopting the principles of the Dubai Declaration, the industry will go a long way to making that prediction a reality.

Sunil John is CEO, ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller and is the Chairman of the Organising Committee of the 20th Public Relations Word Congress, held in Dubai during March 13-15, 2012