Day one of the IPRA Summit in London saw something of a theme emerge, at least from my point of view. Besides the ongoing fascination with social media, which was the topic of my presentation in the morning (and a workshop later in the afternoon), a number of speakers used words like "values"(Dr. Paul Baines, Cranfield School of Management), "intimacy" (British MP Ed Vaizey) "authenticity" and "dialogue"(Aedhmar Hynes, CEO of Text 100), and "listening" (Paul Marsden, director of ClickAdvisor).
There is a strong feeling among public relations professionals that corporate values are increasingly the most significant component of reputation and brand character, and that as communications specialists we have to push our organizations continually to define, communicate and remain committed to a strong culture of socially driven values.
For my money, the most interesting presentation was by Christophe Ginisty, managing director of the French public affairs agency Rumeur Publique and advisor to the centrist candidate in the recent French presidential elections. He talked about two tsunamis in French politics over the past five years that have changed fundamentally the French approach to citizen engagement. The first was the strong showing in the 2002 elections of the ultra right wing candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen which forced many French people to realize that political apathy could have disastrous consequences. The second was the failed referendum on a new European constitution. The mainstream media were convinced that the French would vote yes. Those who were opposed to the referendum found no voice in the media. Instead, they turned to blogging, which the French embrace in huge numbers according to Ginisty (because they love to talk). Had pundits been tracking the conversation in the blogosphere they would have seen a different face in the French attitude. Ginisty argues that this realization has forced politicians to embrace social media as a tool for engaging French citizens, and the recent presidential campaign provides plenty of evidence of this shift.