The Chartered Institute of Public Relations is delighted to be hosting the World PR Conference and Festival in London next week, bringing together practitioners from across the globe to share ideas. But it is not a task for the faint hearted. To begin with, how can we expect them to agree on anything? After all, there are over 300 definitions of public relations – close to General de Gaulle's "country of 365 cheeses" that made France "ungovernable".
And there are historical differences: PR in Britain and in Europe has a strong public benefit tradition, with the Institute of Public Relations in Britain founded by people with wartime experience, working in local government and organisations such as the Post Office; in the United States there was always a more commercial slant, and a mixture of the philosophies of Barnum's circus and early disciples (and relatives) of Sigmund Freud.
But in all definitions, two ideas hold sway: "reputations" and "relationships". Choosing one to precede the other can make for a heated debate, but whatever order you put them in they interact, they thrive on dialogue and they require constant work.
All the tactics used by public relations people in support of their clients are fundamentally about relationships and reputation, occasionally for short-term impact but best aimed long-term. A good reputation "bank" and sound relationships with stakeholders, investors, customers and the media, are the fundamentals of a public relations strategy. They are the grails to which all our speakers will refer, whether promoting city reputation for Turin or Liverpool; advising African nations to operate more confidently on the world stage; ensuring that new media can be used by everyone, or, at the very top of the commercial scale, showing how energy giants such as Gazprom can get messages across in an ever more critical and environmentally conscious world.
All our speakers have good stories to tell, but they will not be heard uncritically. And they will not be talking "spin" or giving lessons on how to be "economical with the truth".
In a globalised economy with a 24-hour media, the demand for public relations knowledge continues to grow. The World Conference and Festival shows just how sophisticated and vibrant our industry is and how it is attracting some of the most able and original people worldwide.
The World PR Conference takes place in London on 23-24 June. For further information and to book, visit www.cipr.co.uk/wprf08