Reminder that PR is a force for good

What is PR? It's a question currently exercising a number of PR professionals and academics. They are struggling to find a definition that can create common ground between PR qualifications around the world.

It's not an academic exercise. Professionals want their qualifications to be recognised wherever they go. That's why the Global Alliance for PR is thinking about the global meaning of PR and what that means for teaching it. It's a mammoth task. But if you needed proof that PR has gone global, you only needed to be at the CIPR World PR Festival in London this week as communications professionals from 33 countries shared experiences.

Nothing could have been further from the media stereotype of PR as spin and manipulation. There were case studies on how PR has been used to challenge the marginalisation of disabled people and ethnic minorities around the world. Experts from New Zealand and Russia joined comms directors from major Western brands to discuss how comms can promote sustainability and raise awareness of climate change. Between workshops in digital marketing and new media, the conference heard about the use of PR to help developing countries escape poverty.

We would say we're useful, wouldn't we? Well, don't take our word for it. A new report from Oxfam, called From Poverty to Power, says it is only by giving people in poor communities a voice that we will end a global state of affairs that leaves one in six people mired in poverty, hunger and disease.

Making their voices heard through public campaigns has helped people in rural India get access to work, given indigenous people in Bolivia the right to own land and allowed HIV-positive people in South Africa better access to antiretroviral drugs.

It was inspiring and uplifting to hear what a difference PR can make. We were no closer to a definition. But we felt a sense of common purpose.

Paul Mylrea is director of communications at the Department for International Development.

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