Now aged 90, I commenced public relations practice in 1947 on my return from service with the Royal Marine Commandos. I am the only Founding Father of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and International Public Relations Association still alive. At the close of my 66-year-long career I wish to record my professional beliefs in the hope that, aided by academics and educators, my assumptions and assertions may be debated from time to time by younger entrants to our craft.
I do not believe that “propaganda” for causes and issues or “publicity” for products and services are per se public relations activities, although they might form part of an overall public relations programme; similarly advertising, promotion, press agentry, and communications. I believe there exist extra dimensions to the practice of professional public relations which must be present in almost equal measure before an initiative can be so termed and which grant it societal meaning and community worth. I submit that, in accord with the universally accepted principles of Freedom of Information and Expression, these ingredients are: truth, paramount concern for the public good and genuine dialogue. And real dialogue presupposes that an institution is fully prepared to change its policies and practices in the light of such activity. Information fuelled by effective two-way communications is the currency of dialogue and controversy is the price that we may have to be paid to achieve credibility.
Communication effectiveness can be evaluated and reputation measured. Audience identification and message construction come within our remit as does the maintenance and protection of reputations based upon deeds well presented. In this interdependent world one of our prime responsibilities is to forecast the likely social impact of corporate actions. Our undertaking to our employers and clients regarding confidentiality should extend to include those individuals in the public sphere whom we may consult when considering the advice we tender. In the overall scheme of things the objective of our contribution to society at large is the achievement of a balance between the intentions of the institutions we represent and the legitimate concerns of their community and constituency. The argument we are like lawyers available to either defend or prosecute is untenable.
To assist meaningful dialogue between parties involved we must understand the theories and techniques of consultation, participation, negotiation, empowerment and conflict. We must appreciate the legal and societal dictates of transparency, accountability, and governance.
Substantially, our Founding Fathers shared this vision of the fundamental philosophy governing and values underpinning our vocation. My earnest hope is that future generations of practitioners will share elements of this Credo.
Tim Traverse-Healy OBE, 1st January 2014
Tim Traverse-Healy is one of the founding fathers of public relations in the United Kingdom and internationally. His a founding father and past president of the Chartered Institute for Public Relations.