The rapid expansion and growing sophistication of public relations around the world, both in higher education and in the practice, since the Commission’s last report in 1999 is truly remarkable.
Public relations is now arguably becoming a global profession in an increasingly-connected world where mutual understanding and harmony are more important than ever.
In its 1999 Port of Entry report, the Commission used a framework with seven levels of analysis that apply to all social systems; in this way, it identified issues and factors that have implications globally for public relations education and practice. In this new report, the Commission uses this framework again and provides an updated analysis that may provide new, relevant insights and, perhaps, stimulate readers to think of other factors and issues as they go about the hard work of further improving public relations in their respective nations. Much of that progress will result from the creative application of current and future public relations research in various parts of the world.
There are generic principles of public relations that cut across cultures. For example, relatively universal values of truth-telling, being fair and doing no harm to the innocent are expressed in codes of ethics established and/or promoted by global professional associations, such as the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management, the International Association of Business Communicators and the International Public Relations Association.
Aspects of excellent public relations can be found in all parts of the world. Certainly the publicity model is common worldwide. Of increasing importance, regardless of the culture, are strategic and crisis communication management in response to increasing demands for transparency and corporate responsibility.
Nevertheless, the performance of public relations varies by culture and by socio-economic and political systems. In fact, the role public relations plays within a society can be a defining characteristic of that society—along with the role of the media and the power of public opinion.
Attitudes toward women and socially approved roles for women are another set of markers for a culture. Worldwide, women are playing more important roles in the practice of public relations. Consequently, the evolving role of women is strongly affecting the evolving role of public relations in society.
Xenophobia and suspicious attitudes toward “foreign” ideas affect the acceptance and growth of a Western approach to public relations within a country, especially in the early stages of the development of the “local” field. Often the concept has to be “reworded” and contextualized into the culture’s language(s), values and beliefs before the next stage in the development of the profession takes off. Confucianism and other Asian philosophies support a communitarian approach to public relations, and are being recognized and incorporated into theory building and practice.
Now as never before, the public relations field is influenced by—and has influence on—evolving global connectedness. On a macro level, this connectedness means growing interaction between “rich” and “poor” societies as well as between different political, cultural or economic systems. The result is a host of international issues affecting strategic public relations, among them: transparency, capital flows, trade, immigration, illegal drugs, disease, resource depletion, environmental protection, education and, even more tragically, regional warfare, ethnic cleansing and terrorism.
Global advancements in communication, democracy and social interdependencies are increasing the importance of public opinion and consequently, the role of public relations throughout the world.
Corporate transparency legislation in various jurisdictions around the world is increasingly similar. Certainly all capital markets are not alike; but regulations such as Sarbanes/Oxley in the United States and similar regulations in other financial markets outside the United States are having a cumulative positive impact on public relations. There are more reasons than ever for public relations expertise to be an integral part of senior management.
Too, there are country-specific regulations dealing with corrupt foreign practices, freedom of information, anti-terrorism, corporate disclosure and private citizen surveillance— each from its own cultural and national point of view. All of these issues point to a shared need and responsibility for all international practitioners to protect the global image of the public relations profession and justify its social role.
National and international trade agreements have public relations implications. Recent examples: U.S.-based Google in China and a Dubaibased company seeking to manage U.S. ports.
A potent combination of political will, public relations strategies and the creation of technological infrastructure has narrowed the communication gap between government and the people and stimulated consensus building. This can be seen especially in India.
And in certain regions of the world, most especially in Korea, government/corporate cooperation in generating and sharing research data is critical to the success of public relations campaigns.
Expertise in global communication is now increasingly available through professional conferences, workshops, Web-based seminars, blogs and Web sites. These resources are available not only to practitioners but also to educators.
At many large counseling firms, recent international growth rates have exceeded domestic growth rates. These firms have rapidly expanded their business in Asia (one firm reports having seven offices in China), Latin America, Europe and the Middle East. Global networks of counseling firms, such as Pinnacle and WorldCom, are serving clients throughout the world.
With increased international trade and capital flows, many corporations have found it necessary to open public relations offices and/or retain local or international counseling firms in various countries. Similarly, issues originating in one part of the world are metastasizing internationally via the Internet, demanding global crisis communication management.
An example of excellent global public relations is the World Bank’s “Communication for Development” program which has assigned to some communicators the role of researching and reporting conditions in developing countries and then playing a central role in developing and implementing change strategies as well as communications.
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) today often involves international and multicultural stakeholders. Stewardship of this function is increasingly being awarded to the top public relations officer function, even when it operates under a different title. CSR’s global implications are becoming more apparent as corporations increasingly examine their potential responsibilities and opportunities in developing countries through conduits such as the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals.
Globalization and information technology have made nation-to-nation public diplomacy and nation-to-the-world communications far more rapid and transparent. As governments, nongovernmental organizations, allied industries and corporations grapple with “winning the hearts and minds” of often distant and hostile publics, foreign service experts are being teamed with public relations specialists in public diplomacy programs.
The rapid growth of public relations practice worldwide has called for an active development of public relations education. For example, at the time of the 1999 Port of Entry report, the concept of public relations was foreign to many communication professionals and journalists in countries like Russia, Ukraine and China. Today, Russia accounts for more than 80 university- based public relations programs, and China has more than 320 institutions of higher education that offer public relations courses.
Importing or significantly adapting North American and Western European models of public relations has become a standard practice for many countries in Latin America and Asia. Many such programs are built closely on the Western prototypes and offer traditional classes in public relations tactics, such as media relations, as well as comprehensive public relations campaigns.
Many students of public relations in countries outside the United States receive more training in strategic management than do some students in the United States. The best programs outside the United States stress classes in the liberal arts and the social sciences, with an emphasis on psychology, political science, marketing and management.
Public relations schools of thought outside of the United States often emphasize a “relational approach” to public relations, as opposed to a “persuasive approach.” Chinese and South Korean educators, for instance, emphasize harmony and compromise as major subjects, in the best tradition of Confucianism. And—in a reversal of influence patterns—some of these Asian philosophies and theoretical frameworks are making their way to the United States and affecting public relations theory and practice.
The placement of the public relations program within a specific department of a school at an educational institution varies greatly around the world. In North America and Western Europe, traditional public relations programs are housed in or near journalism schools and mass communication programs. But elsewhere, as more departments and schools are eager to benefit from lucrative opportunities to teach public relations, the placement of the programs more often than not reflects the aggressive leadership of various departments. Consequently, some public relations programs outside the United States are being developed and housed in such non-journalism, non-communication departments as history, political science or sociology. Each of those programs is grounded in the theories and practices of the home discipline and science.
As a result, many of these public relations programs have developed their own schools of thought concerning the role of public relations in society and how best to teach the practice of public relations. Educators have studied the development and placement of public relations programs within universities in different parts of the world.
Influence on public relations education and practice spreads beyond traditional educational institutions. In countries where public relations is very young as a profession, public relations practitioners and educators, in effect, “teach by doing” through continuous communication with journalists and their communities in general. Such construction of the social profession takes place through constant comprehensive conversations and discussions of what public relations is, as well as what it should and should not be.
Educators and practitioners of public relations can contribute significantly to the formation of the “conscience of society” by practicing ethical public relations. And universities with public relations academic programs and excellent university relations departments can become role models for other educational institutions and, in fact, for all manner of organizations in their nation or region.
International exchange programs for faculty and students are contributing materially to the understanding and development of global public relations. They are projecting their regional and global perspectives “one classroom at a time,” thereby having a significant impact on their participants and the profession.
By their significant and growing numbers, North American educators who have taught or are teaching outside the continent have especially influenced the development of the field in other countries. Many new public relations programs, including several programs in the Middle East and in Russia, have been created or expanded by these educators. And when they return home, these educators bring back new perspectives of public relations benefiting both their students and colleagues. Likewise, public relations educators trained in master’s and doctoral programs in the United States, Great Britain, and Australia, in particular, are influencing the development of theory and expanding global research.
Educators and practitioners from around the world who are actively involved in professional organizations and attend international and regional research and professional development conferences are also greatly influencing the globalization of public relations curricula and the status of the profession worldwide.
The relationship between university administration and faculty is critical to academic success the world over. However, in the development of public relations programs in countries new to the concept, this relationship can result in situations that may seem strange to American educators and practitioners.
Many of the university public relations programs in the United States are based, at least in part, on the way the practice is developing; administrators have (or claim to have) a basic understanding of the field. However, many of the administrators in newly emerging market economies do not understand the value of public relations to society and most public relations educators in these countries don’t have formal training in the field. Therefore, some of these university administrators offer programs that are widely interdisciplinary and develop their own views on how public relations should be practiced and taught.
Increasing multiculturalism and the diversification of the public relations field worldwide are creating new opportunities in the classroom and in the global public relations practice, as well as creating a greater need for practitioners, students and educators to be sensitive to diversity issues such as race, sex, age, ethnic origins and religious preferences.
Advertising, marketing and public relations campaigns are shaping a global “mediated self.” It is striking to see in modern shopping malls around the world how similar are middleclass teenagers: they often walk in an electronic fog of their own making, listen to the same global rock stars, repeatedly use cell phones, wear the same brands of clothes and eat at the same fast-food franchises. Especially among young people, there is a growing awareness and recognition of their commonality with their peer group elsewhere in the world. The global “mediated self” is both an opportunity for good and a potential problem for educators and practitioners alike.
On the other hand, cultural identity affects how an individual recognizes problems, perceives his or her level of involvement in a situation, and how information is searched for and processed.
Gender, physical traits and internalized sex roles remain significant cultural traits, with both limitations and strengths for different individuals. These differences affect the professional development of public relations practitioners.
Background and training of educators have an influence on how public relations is taught and how curriculum is developed.
Personal ethics and identification with an organization concerned about professional ethics help the individual practitioner develop a moral framework for public relations practice.
The factors listed above are indicative of four global trends: 1) the expansion of public relations capabilities in virtually every nation; 2) the increasingly sophisticated agenda of 21st Century corporate social responsibility; 3) the critical importance of transparency and public relations for both public and private organizations; and 4) the increasing number of public relations educators and students teaching and studying outside their country of origin.