The Arthur W. Page Society’s Distinguished Service Award has always been near and dear to me. Receiving it four years ago was an especially rewarding experience. So I was particularly pleased this week to applaud the 2010 award recipient, long-time friend Peter Debreceny. During his acceptance remarks, Peter discussed three points that are important to the future of the public relations profession–authenticity, the value of a broad view, and the need for a clear, compelling vision.
“Authenticity doesn’t just apply to our organizations – it applies to us as individuals as well,” Peter told 200 senior PR professionals attending the organization’s annual conference near Los Angeles. “It’s a personal challenge, to behave in a way that is consistent with who one is or who one wants to be. I know it’s not an easy challenge to meet, because issues can be grey, decisions tough, and consequences daunting. But the answer to the profession’s reputation will only come when every practitioner stays within their personal ethical boundaries – – and when we are all prepared to say ‘no, I am not crossing that line.’ If we each behave in a way that is personally authentic, we will have an authentic profession.”
Peter warned against the risk of having too narrow a view of our work and reaching that view too early. “I see many young graduates coming out of college already having decided that they want to be in this part of what we do or that. I think we need to help them acquire their specialist skills, but also curiosity and a holistic view of the world,” he said. The importance of combining specialist expertise and experience with intuitive skills allows PR pros to “get to a better solution.” Peter warned that too narrow a focus on a particular specialization can “dull the magic of understanding, and understanding is an important gift that we can – and should – bring to our craft every day.” He calls it the secret sauce of what we do.
Noting that people are looking for direction, for certainty and for confidence, Peter said they want to know “where do we want to go, what do we want to be?” He asserted that PR pros are able to provide that direction. “We are the binoculars, the magnifier, the telescope all in one. We more than anyone else see the big picture, and the detail. Simultaneously. We can see the environment in which the organization operates, can see the possibility and opportunity. We can use our skills to make the complex simple, to not only explain the vision and inspire the vision – but create the vision.”
Peter Debreceny is former vice president of the Corporate Relations Department of Allstate Insurance Company. He now is a consultant with Gagen MacDonald, a change management firm based in Chicago. He is active in several civic and professional organizations, including the Institute for Public Relations which he has chaired. He is chair of the Commission on Global Public Relations Research. He regularly lectures on PR at universities in the U.S. and internationally. He also is a member of the ACEJMC accrediting panel.