The fallout from the EU referendum has created a huge void in leadership.
With our politicians reeling and casting around for a plan in the face of Brexit, now is an obvious time for public relations practitioners to step forward as strategic advisers, but there is a clear gap there too.
It’s a missed opportunity.
Worst of all, public relations and public affairs professionals are arguably seen as part of the problem, rather than the solution.
A few bad apples do not spoil the barrel but we seem to be happy to allow people to think they do. It’s astonishing.
Why the lethargy?
Neither of the main public relations industry bodies, the CIPR or PRCA, have taken a position or have lobbied the government to utilise the experts they have at their fingertips.
Neither are they holding the communications professionals previously involved with the Remain or Leave campaigns to account, despite evidence that shows both sides deliberately misled the public with their referendum promises.
The continuing lack of leadership is stark in the face of the legal industry’s response, where more than 1000 lawyers signed a letter to David Cameron to say the Brexit result is ‘advisory’ and not legally binding. They cite ‘evidence that the result was influenced by misrepresentations of fact and promises that could not be delivered’ as a clear issue with the process.
Members of the CIPR and PRCA sign up to a Code of Conduct. If any of their members were involved and broke the Code, it should be a straight forward decision to expel them from the membership.
A high profile example like this would go a long way to placing white space between those operating unethically and the wider profession, and maybe that’s exactly what we need.
I’m not holding my breath.
Stand up and be counted
As individuals and communications professionals we also have a responsibility to make our voices heard.
If we don’t, we deserve more of what we get.
I’ve certainly written to my MP to express my concerns with the referendum process and to say I expect him to lobby for a stronger code of ethics.
How else can we ensure political campaigns are no longer founded on deceit but instead on honesty and transparency that are designed to truly engage with the public? It’s up to us to take a stand.
A new type of leadership
It’s time both politicians and the public relations profession embraced a new type of leadership.
A leadership which places people over power and profits.
In the book I published last year called #FuturePRoof, Professor Anne Gregory talks about communicating with conscience and influencing organisational leaders to do the right thing.
It applies not just to business but at the highest levels of influence.
‘To help leaders, to build better organisations and contribute to society, we need to make them “good”. As Aristotle said, practice the virtues and you will become virtuous,’ says Anne Gregory.
‘For public relations practitioners this means more than caring about the day to day interactions with stakeholders and the latest communication toys, but transforming our organisations from within.’
It makes a lot of sense.
Because of the role we play, public relations people have an unrivalled opportunity to help organisations, including governments, rethink their purpose and, to use Anne’s words, how they ‘gain and maintain their legitimacy not only with their immediate stakeholders, but with society more widely.’
Let’s follow Anne’s call to action and help leaders find purpose, test their principles and keep them focused on people, rather than process, profits and power.
With the political environment as it is, it can be the only way forward.
For more on how PR practitioners can influence leaders, take a look at Anne Gregory’s chapter in #FuturePRoof