THURSDAY 11 MAY 2017 10:22 AM


It’s not news that news itself is now global. But what that has changed, is the nature of public relations. Now, a team working in London or Abu Dhabi or Cape Town may have responsibility to communicate during a crisis or a campaign that has a global reach. The strategies for dealing with that scope are rife, and many were discussed at the CIPR International’s first Global PRactice conference on Friday.

The London event featured speakers from around the world covering topics ranging from crisis communications to ethics to the management of global teams.

The first session examined crisis, in various guises. But crucially, PR professionals working in a crisis situation must control the flow of information, speakers said. Keynote speaker Donald Steel said PRs should, “Counter rumours by putting out more information ourselves.” Looking at the risks inherent in digital communications, Charlie Bain, COO of online reputation management firm Digitalis, said, “In order to plan, you need to know what’s out there.” He encouraged attendees to take stock of their clients’ online profiles and look for information that may be unintenionally in the public domain.

A panel on crisis management ensued and discussed the challenges presented by fake news. Gillian Duffy, senior associate for law firm Schillings said one of the challenges in combatting fake news is the lack of regulations or legislation governing online media. She said, “We need to define what is a publication in the modern world and the only way to do that is through case law.” The challenge for PR is not only in identifying who is responsible for spreading fake news, but ensuring the reputations of clients are not sullied by such news.

The discussion turned then to questions of ethics and examined the challenges of working internationally. Speakers discussed the obstacles – and opportunities – presented by working in places with non-western cultures. One even describes the custom of bringing a goat to a local leader, as a matter of custom. “You have to get the context right,” one speaker added. Consensus was that ethics can be ruled by guidelines, but those guides should have the leeway to adapt to local customs and norms as well as that which the situation may dictate.

The conference closed on a session examining global teams. Herbert Heitmann, former EVP global brand, communications and government relations for Bayer spoke about the ways in which he has built global communications and PR teams within sprawling organisations. His advice was to give local teams the freedom to make their own decisions, while working toward the objectives set at the global level. Kerry Thorpe, European PR lead for Ben & Jerry’s Europe added, “When you work in global communications it’s very important that people understand who you are and what you stand for.” She said local teams should be supported and made to feel part of the global business, while still retaining the independence to make decisions for their markets. Thorpe used the example of Ben & Jerry's campaign against global warming to address these issues.

That was the theme for the day; global but with a flexibility and trust at the local level.

The Global PRactice conference followed the annual Maggie Nally Lecture, held at the Houses of Parliament on Thursday night.