Reflections, Reputation Management & Positivity for 2021

A New Year Message from the President of Global Alliance, Justin Green

Ladies and gentlemen, Colleagues, Fellow public relations and communications professionals, 

I dearly wish, that we were meeting in person, rather than me speaking to you through a camera lens from here in my home city of Dublin, Ireland.

Hello I’m Justin Green.

As President of the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management, I am very proud to represent over 300,000 practitioners and academics across 126 countries worldwide.

Today, Global Alliance is a global, diverse and multicultural organisation, representing professionals across religions, cultures, societies and races.

Recent and very welcomed changes to our Bylaws, means we are now more inclusive than ever before, working closer together worldwide.

These changes have met with widespread global support, allowing our organisation to become stronger, richer and true to our mission.

As President, I believe Global Alliance must continue to evolve to be more relevant and progressive. We will continue to improve our structures, offerings and business model. We have made many improvements for the better and there is much more to come.

As a member organisation, accountability, transparency and sound corporate governance, are vitally important to us.

In countless different professional environments right around the world, Global Alliance members work in what, to me – is one of the greatest professions there is.

At its core, our role is helping people to understand each other, building and strengthening relationships, that connect us everywhere around the world.

What could be more important or interesting?

That has seldom been more apparent, than during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had such a huge impact in our lives over the last year.

It is right, that all of us follow the precautions designed to protect ourselves and others from this awful disease.

However, it is also right that we now look forward with high hopes to large-scale vaccination globally throughout 2021 and beyond, so that we reach the day when COVID-19 is something we recall in our history, rather than live with as a current threat.

There are very few positives to be taken from such a global public health emergency, that has cost so many lives and also turned people’s world upside down, whether through illness or the economic impact of job losses or business closures.

One plus that I would point to, is how the crisis has shown us the real heroes in the frontline of our health services, and also the often unseen scientists who have worked at tremendous speed to deliver safe and effective treatments and vaccines.

Beyond that, I have been struck repeatedly during the year by how central our own profession has been in the response to COVID-19.

There has been tremendous communications work done – often at a really fast pace as new information has emerged – in keeping people informed on what steps they need to take to stay safe.

While we would all wish for better circumstances to shine in, those working in PR and communications have excelled in leading public information campaigns, to make people more aware of the dangers, and to encourage them to comply with the various health protection safeguards.

The worst of times brought out the best of us, and people rallied to deliver life-saving messages.

That effort continues, and there is also a huge amount of vital work to be done on addressing vaccine hesitancy, so that people get the information and reassurance they need as vaccines are approved by the health authorities.

From a Global Alliance perspective, we have responded in an agile way to the challenge presented by COVID-19, switching our service delivery entirely online and ensuring we stay relevant to our member bodies by providing access to the latest in international best practice sharing.

In some ways at least, while we have been forced to stay physically apart, we have never been closer. It is fortunate that the pandemic came when we have greater access than ever to technology.

Critical and often overlooked, is the reputation of our own profession, and how we are perceived by our clients, our employers and the wider publics we interact with and influence.

That reputation is a consequence of the work that we all do around the world each day and how we approach it.

Every time that any member of our profession drops below the line, and fails to uphold the highest ethical standards, they damage the reputation of our entire profession.

People now rightly demand transparency and straight-dealing, so any lapses in integrity that come into the public domain will attract huge adverse attention, and harm all of us who work in this profession.

The reputation of all of us collectively also depends on how well we reflect the societies that we operate in, and I would challenge all leaders to make 2021 the year when we really ask ourselves the hard questions, about how well our teams mirror the world around us.

Are we diverse and inclusive?

Do we provide equal opportunities on the basis of talent, merit and hard work?

Do we listen to new voices?

For me, diversity and inclusion is not a challenge or a metric – it’s something to celebrate, it’s in our DNA at Global Alliance.

I know from my own experience as a PR company director in Europe and Africa, that the best work is done by teams who are most alike, the audiences they want to reach.

So please think, what that means in your world, so that the best people get to be the best version of themselves at work in your organisations.

This isn’t just about tolerating people from different backgrounds to our own, it’s about seeing that difference as a strength, to be respected and built on.

Recent practical steps that Global Alliance has taken towards getting closer to you and our profession is the establishment of six Regional Councils: North American, Asia Pacific, Latin America, Europe, Africa and India-Middle East. We recently opened a new head office in Lisbon, Portugal and a regional hub with LSPR in Jakarta Indonesia.

I am delighted today to announce, 2021 will see the opening of new regional offices, in New York in partnership with Public Relations Society of America and in Nairobi Kenya, in partnership with the Public Relations Society of Kenya.

Global Alliance is fully committed to promoting the highest reputational standards worldwide, having introduced the first ever Global Ethics Month, led the profession with the Global Principles of Ethical Practice in Public Relations and Communication Management, and now the newly launched, 2021 Global Public Relations and Communication Model.

This model defines the roadmap and building blocks of the functions of PR and Communications, that contributes to the creation of differentiation, reputation, trust and social legitimacy. The model consolidates the Stockholm Accords and the Melbourne Mandate, and also integrates the Global Capabilities Framework.

I mentioned earlier how important ethical behaviour is, to how our profession is perceived by different stakeholders.

Another huge area within reputation management is how we fight misinformation, and so-called ‘fake news,’ in this age of social media where everyone’s a publisher, with the equivalent to a printing press in their back pocket, in the form of their smartphone.

If we consider misinformation or ‘fake news’ as another disease, that’s spreading rapidly and causing great harm to our societies, then I would argue that professional communicators upholding high ethical standards are central to the cure.

We could all be forgiven for getting downhearted, at the rate at which rumours, lies and half-truths spread unchecked. But I would ask, that we all commit to doing all we can, to fight back and take a stand, for truth and accuracy.

It is not only us and our clients or employers who will be worse off, if misinformation is allowed to continue its advances unchecked. It is our entire society, as our political systems become poisoned and public debate grows increasingly polarised and divisive.

The social media genie is now well and truly out of the bottle, so there is no point in wishing for times past. But – equally – we shouldn’t give up on standing up for the truth. If we do this right and partner with reputable media outlets who try to get things right, then we can, and will stem the tide.

Education and good governance are also key in this regard, so that current and future professionals learn why ethics matter.

In April and May, we had Education & Training Months, that allowed us share resources and opportunities with peers around the world. Some of the best of this was repeated in November and December, as we are conscious that many colleagues have been working from home and unable to gather for the sort of in-person training they would have done, in previous years.

In 2020, Global Alliance produced and shared over €1m euro worth of educational, training and resources free of charge, to help and support members, and the profession during COVID-19.

Strengthening ethics through education, 2021 will see the roll-out of our Academic Council’s Global Accreditation Programme.

Enhancing world standards, reputation and recognition of our members qualifications, training and educational programs, fulfilling our mandate of raising professional standards worldwide.

In mentioning education, I would like to see a greater focus on media literacy across all levels of education now.

So that young people are trained in how to spot situations where they are being spun a line or sold ‘fake news,’ masquerading as fact.

An over-reliance on social media and unregulated sources of information, leaves people at very high risk of being misinformed and getting a skewed view of important subjects.

I would also say that in considering reputation management, there are two key dimensions – reality and perception.

So reality, is not always something we can have a huge influence on, but we can help shape perceptions, so that people see the full picture and have the information they need to form a fair and balanced opinion about a situation.

Doing this, requires that we ourselves have full knowledge of a scenario we are responding to. For this reason, I would always encourage you to be close to your clients and employers, so that you are trusted with all relevant information.

It is only then, that you can provide the best strategic counsel and guide the response.

I’ve also long thought, that while we as professional communicators are very often called in by organisations when their reputation is on the line in a crisis situation, we have a job to do in educating them, about the role we can play by being onboard at an earlier stage, to help them avoid finding themselves in a crisis in the first place.

Some of the best work that I have done in my own 30-year career, has been in averting rather than responding to crises. Prevention is better than cure, so our communications skills used early can avoid a much worse outcome, where a situation runs out of control.

We can I think, also do a better job of showing the value of a strong reputation and highlighting case studies where we have helped protect reputations in a crisis.

For those clients or employers who find themselves in the full glare of the media during a crisis, there is a huge amount at stake.

Not only, will they be judged for the original situation that put them in the spotlight, their future reputation will also be shaped in large part, by their response.

So, they shouldn’t give up and nor should we, as their advisors.

There’s a lot on the line.

We can all agree then, that reputation matters.

It can take a lifetime, or even several generations for an organisation to earn a good name and just hours or days to lose it, at enormous cost and even jeopardising the organisation’s survival.

The best defence of reputation is to consistently do the right thing, at the right time, for the right reasons.

As we move through 2021, I would encourage each of you to think about the part you play as reputation managers, but also to extend that out to being Chief Reputation Officers/Ambassadors, for our profession.

So, act ethically – maintain high standards. Keep your skills current, renew your learning, and surround yourself with new voices so that you hear many perspectives.

Think also, about what you can do to make our profession even more diverse and representative of the wider world, we all live in.

Even when we go beyond COVID-19, there are still many challenges ahead, such as protecting our planet from the climate crisis.

That battle, will also be won in part by brilliant communications promoting behaviour change and responsible leadership.

As communicators, we have a front-row seat for history, but that privilege brings with it, a responsibility to see the bigger picture, and use our talents for good.

Together, we can change our profession and the world, so let’s get to work and set no limits on our ambitions.

As a first step to change, I encourage you to familiarise yourself more with Global Alliance, and some of the many resources that we provide to you, our members.

Together we can all build back better, a new global community of respect, truth, knowledge, peace, inclusiveness, and justice for all.

So please, continue to partner with us on this exciting journey, we are stronger together.

2021 is the year to think global, go global and be global with your Global Alliance.

Together, we can help make the 2020s a decade of renewal and growth for our profession, and ensure that we hand it on to future generations in the best shape possible.

Finally, I wish you a successful day, month and year ahead of learning, sharing and caring.

I’m Justin Green President of Global Alliance.

Thank you.

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