Walking a Path Never Taken

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If we sit around and moan endlessly about the lack of recognition Public Relations may or may not suffer from today, we won’t get far.

This “recognition” is seldom pinned down: recognition for what? For doing a good job? For being good at “pink and fluff”, as a good friend of mine calls it? Recognition for having great relations with the media? Or recognition that our input can be invaluable to all organisations?

Four years ago I’ve done something that many thought impossible to achieve for someone who can’t tell a nail from a screw, let alone for someone who still wonders what witchcraft makes planes lift off: I’ve created the first international conference of its kind in the world debating the importance of human risk in upstream oil and gas – it was shortly after Macondo disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

I did it because I knew that it’s not technology that the oil and gas industry was needing first and foremost, but a real and honest conversation that was lacking, one that had to dig deep into human emotions, psyche, feelings and perceptions – in other words, it was a matter of “Public Relations”.

It was a massive and resounding success, an initiative that even four years on keeps on giving as they say. Many of you will understand why the conference title was “Another Perspective on Risk – The Next Tipping Point”. It was another perspective and a new tipping point.

When Lord Cullen took to the stage that day – the Chairman of Piper Alpha inquiry – and said that “this conference is extremely important”, from my front row seat I allowed a tear to come out. Just one.

What I have learned in my 18 years’ career in high risk industries and complex multi-government initiatives is that success comes to those who dare. Lillian Espinoza-Gala, one of the first women to ever work offshore in the Gulf of Mexico told me something several years ago: “Ella, if you build it, we will come”.

We have many issues to sort out in Public Relations, starting with whether we can ever be a profession and ending with a universal definition of what Public Relations actually is or stands for. But these are matters for academics and industry bodies to ruminate over and reach an unanimous decision on.

What is in our own power though is to push through and to demonstrate that we have got what it takes to stand tall, express our point of view and get a well deserved “seat” at the “table”. To me “Public Relations” has been, is and it will always be a strategic management function.

“My” Public Relations or Strategic Communications or Corporate Affairs “specialists” or whatever you may wish to call them should be comfortable to discuss with heads of governments or C-suite functions, international correspondents, tribal leaders, protestors, politicians and street cleaners.

We can change the world if we set our minds to do it – if not, at least we can change the perception and reputation of the one we work in, that of Public Relations.

This is precisely why CIPR’s Energy Leadership Platform (ELP) was set up; its ultimate goal is to demonstrate PR’s value as a strategic management function. And since energy is one of the most, if not the most complex industry of the 21st century, its challenges are immense. We chose the hardest one to make the case of our “USP” – if we succeed, not only did we walk a path for many of our colleagues to follow but, also, we built a legacy and proved that “it can be done”.

We’ve just launched our first output, “An Introduction to Energy PR”. This is the first of many more to come. This week (22nd of November 2018) CIPR’s CEO is going to present an award on ELP’s behalf to the winner of the “Public Engagement” category of the Energy Institute’s Award.

This is a first in the history of the CIPR and I hope it won’t be the last. It’s not echo-chambers and backslaps that we need as an industry – it’s going out there, in totally untrodden territory, and demonstrate what we can do. It’s not industry events we need to speak at, but other industries’ events!

One of our Advisory Board members, an exceptionally bright colleague called Cristina Chapman is representing ELP in the panel of the Energy Institute / International Energy Agency (IEA) World Energy Outlook – and she won’t be speaking about tactics, digital tools, PESO or “pink and fluff”. She’ll be speaking about the communication and stakeholder engagement challenges presented by the findings of the World Energy Outlook Report. That takes courage, knowledge, skills and complete confidence in what you’re capable of.

The ELP has been set up as a world-first senior Energy PR practitioners thinktank. We don’t organise events nor sell tickets. We don’t meet for a drink (we might do one day though since Kim Blomley has offered to buy them last time we spoke) – we meet to discuss what we need to tackle next.

Our specialisms cover the entire energy industry spectrum, and we are a highly diverse group not just in terms of our gender or sexuality, but in terms of our expertise, background, nationalities, geographies and employers: agency, in-house, regulator, industry body, listed organisations, management consultancies etc.

Allow me to introduce you to my very special ELP colleagues, all captured in the photo below, and tell you that they are incredible PR professionals. Some are members of the ELP’s Advisory Board, others are members of our Technical Working Group.

They all have two things in common: a passion for the energy industry and a determination to break the ceiling of how Public Relations is perceived.

From top left to bottom right I give you Sarah Wright, Sujay Mehdudia, David Birungi, Amy Eckersley, Anna Livesey, Ben Steele, Nick Turton, Stephen Ballard, George Eykyn, Stuart Neil, Abbie Sampson, Gordon Welsh, Claire Newell, Aamir Abbasi, Bieneosa Ebite, Cristina Chapman, Anthea Pitt, Jamie Robertson, Yasser Mohammed, Roseanne Thomas, Gareth Wynn, Kim Blomley, Paddy Blewer and myself.

We are on a very clear mission: to demonstrate our strategic value to those we work for and to gain recognition for us all. And we will – we’ve just started.

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