By Stacy Hope
Three PRSA National Capital Chapter (PRSA-NCC) Board members recently met with social media and digital communications leaders from business and media sectors in North Africa and the Middle East to introduce them to the PRSA National Capital Chapter and discuss how nonprofits, advocacy organizations, and government agency public relations professionals in the United States use social media to connect with key constituencies.
PRSA-NCC President Sultana Ali, President-Elect Laura Bynum, and Board Member and International Committee Chair Stacy Hope joined participants in the Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) for a 90-minute discussion that ranged from the early days of Facebook to PRSA’s accreditation programs to client-agency relations.
IVLP, the State Department’s premier professional exchange program, organizes short-term visits to the United States for current and emerging foreign leaders in a broad range of fields. IVLP alumni include more than 335 current or former Chiefs of State or Heads of Government.
Hailing from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia, the IVLP participants were particularly interested in learning more about networking and public relations professional development opportunities provided by PRSA, as well as the ethical obligations of public relations professionals in the United States.
One of the visitors communicated with the group that a U.S. communications firm had agreed to represent the government of Egypt – a country currently ranked as “Not Free” by Freedom House. (Note: The firm in question had been hired by the Egyptian government following the 2013 coup to provide public diplomacy, strategic communications counsel, and government relations services.)
The PRSA leaders explained that based on the American rights of free speech and expression, foreign governments are welcome to seek representation by U.S. public relations professionals, regardless of the political disposition of the government (barring sanctions). They also discussed the difference between lobbying and PR, which are two distinct professions, each with its own code of ethics. For instance: The PRSA code of ethics states states that we as PR professionals “serve the public interest by acting as responsible advocates for those we represent.”
The IVLP participants were also very interested in how social media is used and the PRSA panelists provided case studies of how social media can make a difference in augmenting or promoting a brand in the U.S., citing examples such as Oreo’s “You can still dunk in the dark” tweet when the lights went out during the Superbowl in 2013. It was a robust discussion that reminded all in the room that we have more similarities than differences, and communication continues to be an important skill regardless of the country where you reside. PR professionals play a critical role in conversations and through media that shape the world in which we live.