Sunday, June 20, 2010

A first look at the Stockholm Accords

The first in a series of five papers examining the Stockholm Accords 


Public Relations was ambushed by marketing in the mid 20th century. It became the servant of its child and was largely subsumed into something called ‘Marketing Communications’.
In this lecture and associated papers and seminars, I will explore the nature of the profession from a perspective of Public Relations forced back into its roots of persuasion, diplomacy and relationship building by ubiquitous interactive communication.
Drawing on the perspectives of the Stockholm Accords and their ready acceptance by practitioners and academics worldwide, I will examine how the professionals, the associations, managers, consultants, educators, researchers and students in the PR sector have to adapt.
This paper outline the perspective I will take and will be supported by four further papers (including Management, Sustainability, Internal Communication, External Communication) that will be published in advance of the lectures.


The extra-ordinary experience of one of the biggest companies in the world being ill-prepared for a historically unmatched oil spill disaster from every PR perspective in 2010; the complete breakdown in relationships and trust among bankers two years earlier and the ill-preparedness of the industry as new platforms and channels of communication become commonplace, forms the basis of a new professional construct in which PR has to administer its principles on a sustained basis and to affirm them throughout the profession, as well as to management and other relevant stakeholder groups.
The Stockholm Accords provide the basis by which modern day practice may be examined in what Phillips once call ‘Blazing Netshine’, the internet as ubiquitous, interactive communication.


“All Organizations operating under the stakeholder governance model empower their leaders -board members and elected officials- to be directly responsible for deciding and implementing stakeholder relationship policies”, claims the Accord.
In the papers published in 2000 (Phillips, Journal of Communication Management, , 2001) and in the subsequent book (Phillips, Online Public Relations, 2001), I made it clear that I thought that the concept of fixed social or economic groups could not be a long lived construct in a digital age. The reality is that now we can explore the nature of such group, whether beings with a ‘stake’ in an organisation, namely ‘stakeholders’ (Freeman, 1984) or people with an interest in the issues that face organisations, the publics described by Grunig and Hunt (Grunig, J. E., & Hunt, T, 1984) and Grunig, et al (Grunig, L. A., Grunig, J. E., & Dozier, D, 2002) . The reality, we discover in a very large data set and published by  Amaral  and Phillips (Amaral, B. and Phillips, D, 2009) is that groups of individuals form and re-group round clusters of ever changing mutually held values. The concept of such groups, it seems is not wrong, but they are much less fixed than the marketing literature would have us believe.
The communicative organization, described in the Accords does indeed require timely information because the groups which interest practitioners change quite rapidly. As Professor Anne Gregory put it at the World Public Relations Forum Stockholm in June 2010, ‘Public Relations is complex’. One might add, fast moving.

We are now also aware that the nature of  groups on line is that they can have and do access a broad and often well informed knowledge base. For this reason, if non other, the modern parctitioners requires knowledge and understanding of economic, social, environmental and legal developments, as well as of its ‘stakeholders’ expectations.
Practice needs the tools, and an ability to be able to use them and have sufficient (and pretty comprehensive knowledge) to asses such influences in near real time.
It is with such skills that the practitioner can promptly identify and deal with the opportunities and risks that can impact the organization’s direction, action and communication.
This then suggests that mastering the actuality of the iPhone and iPad generation and those people whose lives are mediated by the immediacy and ubiquity of the internet is a PR imperative.
The Accords invite the profession to participate in defining organizational values, principles, strategies, policies and processes.
In the last year we have moved a long way. We are gaining considerable insights into the nature, relevance and significance of values. Indeed, one might suggest, based on the presentation provided by Amaral at Euprera (Amaral, 2010) that the nature of values and the capability to identify values extant in an organisation and among the wider community is much less difficult than first thought.
The extent to which such values express the mission and objective of the organisation can now be considered in juxtaposition. It is remarkably easy with such tools to be able to identify dissonance.
With such capability principles, strategies, policies and processes are much more easily managed and implemented.
The reality is that, as the use and application of the internet escapes from the Personal Computer and  becomes ever more evident in mobile phone, games and the ‘Internet of Things’, much of what the practitioner needs is to be found in digital social networking, interaction and mediation.

This does require the practitioner (hopefully the research based academic practitioner), develops, becomes knowledgeable and hones research skills and tools to interpret ‘stakeholders’ and society’s expectations as a basis for decisions.

The practitioner capable of delivering  timely analysis and recommendations for effective governance of  ‘stakeholder’ relationships is thus a reasonably practical ambition and practitioner capability. It does require a very mature, well educated and committed career practitioner. But, as we discover from the BP Oil disaster and the Banking crisis, a long overdue recruitment capability is required among non-exec board members. The simple sense to employ public relations practitioners rather than what can be described as Johnny-come-lately and often ex-journalists to do a proper job may be considered in the best interest of the shareholder and future societal contribution of the firm.

In the interest of professionalism, is it right that we could or should judge the practitioner who allowed a bank to be so wary of its trading partners that it nearly brought the world’s financial structures to an end? Is it, one might ask the responsibility of a public relations person to have some role in the effectiveness of organisational relationships?

The Accords are proscriptive in calling for enhancing transparency, trustworthy behaviour, authentic and verifiable representation, thus, they suggest, sustaining the organization’s “licence to operate”.
There is a need to explore such propositions. The nature of radical transparency is an anathema for most organisations, indeed, for most individuals. However, we are seeing a trade off between transparency, which Philip Young and Phillips (Phillips, D. & Yoing, P, 2009) explore at some length, and the convenience it offers individuals. Does this translate into the future organisation?

Today, the location capability (using triangulation between mobile cell transmitters) of the mobile phone is one form of tracking a phone, there are a number of organisations are involved in ‘blue casting’ using the mobile Bluetooth facility to broadcast messages to people in close proximity and many of us are aware of the GPS facility embedded in mobiles. At the same time we broadcast emails, photos and voice without a care. Much of these data is used by organisations to collect information about the users.
People make themselves and their actions and activities transparently available.


The pay back is terrific with a host of location specific services that range from directions to a destination to discovery of local products and services. This trade of is much more extensive that this short description and will become even greater in the future as the ‘Internet if Things’ becomes ever more common. What we are seeing is an extension of personal transparency towards radial personal transparency.

The question the profession may like to ask itself is whether organisations might want to or wish to extent transparency further because the trade-off is so beneficial. Indeed, there are ethical issues at every turn and, just to make life more interesting for the practitioner and the Accords, is that the proposition is, and rightly, a sign of professional capability that this should be a matter for the practitioner manager and academic.

The Accords invite practitioners to espouse trustworthy behaviour. Of course, we understand the nature of trust and trustworthiness but how far have the Centre for Public Relations Studies[i] or the The Institute for Media and Communication Research[ii] explored the nature of trust in an internet mediated world through the extension of the thinking of, say, contributors to the Oxford Internet Surveys group such as Dutton et al ?

There are interesting areas for research with Dutton et al ( Dutton, W.H., Guerra, G.A., Zizzo, D.J. and Peltu, M., 2005) offering an interesting starting point with papers on Trust in the internet. A key determinant of social capital is thought to be trust in other people. But we find that internet users are actually more trusting than non-users, implying that they have more social capital.
The fashion for talking about organisations that have an internal listening culture, an open system that allows the organization to anticipate, adapt and respond to events though the experience and using the contributions of its ‘stakeholders’  is an area for further exploration and the subject of a further paper.
In this series of papers I shall be presenting consideration of other Accords including Management, Sustainability, Internal Communication, External Communication and the coordination of these activities.

Dutton, W.H., Guerra, G.A., Zizzo, D.J. and Peltu, M. (2005). The cyber trust tension in e-government: Balancing identity, privacy, security.0:13-23. Information Polity 1 .
Amaral. (2010, February). Concepts of Values for Public Relations. Retrieved June 20, 2010, from Euprera Spring Symposium:
Amaral, B. and Phillips, D. (2009, July). A proof of concept for automated discourse analysis in support of identification of relationship building in blogs. Retrieved June 20, 2010, from
Freeman, R. E. (1984). Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach. Boston: Pitman.
Grunig, J. E., & Hunt, T. (1984). Managing public relation. Orlando, FL: Holt: Rinehart and Winston.
Grunig, L. A., Grunig, J. E., & Dozier, D. (2002). Excellent Public Relations and Effective Organizations: a Study of Communication Management in Three Countries. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Phillips, D. & Yoing, P. (2009). Online Public Relations 2nd ed. London: Kogan Page.
Phillips, D. (2001). Journal of Communication Management, . Journal of Communication Management Vol. 5 Iss: 2, pp.189 - 206 , pp189-206.
Phillips, D. (2001). Online Public Relations. London: Kogan Page.