Several years ago I met a wise man. His name is Dr Michael Schluter CBE. At one time, Michael worked in East Africa and he has a talent for understanding how important relationships are to our sense of identity.
He told me of a Zulu proverb which when loosely translated, reads:
“We are who we are because of other people.”
During the past week I met with people who have had a big influence on who I am. These men and women of the Public Relations Global Network (PRGN) (www.prgn.com) are an extraordinary group of friends, mentors and colleagues.
This year the PRGN celebrates its 20th birthday. What began as an idea among a few agency principals in the United States during 1992 has blossomed into a network of 44 agencies with almost 1000 consulting professionals on six continents.
Those clients who have come to trust our global thought-leadership and market intelligence include Nokia, GSK, Canon, Volvo, Shell, Nestle, Barclays, Microsoft, Virgin, Ford, AT Kearny and Nintendo, to name a few.
Five original founding member agencies – HMA Public Relations (www.hmapr.com), Stevens Strategic Communications, Inc. www.stevensstrategic.com), Buchanan Public Relations LLC (www.buchananpr.com), The Fearey Group (www.feareygroup.com) and DVL Public Relations & Advertising (www.dvl.com) – still remain active in our network.
Last week, during the PRGN’s visit to Cape Town for its half-yearly meeting, it did not escape our attention that South Africa celebrates a significant milestone this week, the 18th anniversary of its country’s first free election.
Nor did it escape our notice that South Africa is a country with a diverse array of voices, culture and identities, something we have to come to respect, not only in Cape Town, yet also in ourselves at the PRGN.
For we believe, diversity – whether that be freedom of expression in the community or the structure of an economy – is essential for meeting the challenges that confront people, business and policymakers worldwide.
Everywhere we look today, the magnitude and complexity of the world’s challenges, including climate change, food security, population growth, market volatility, community health and resource scarcity, is mounting.
The stakes for humanity have never been higher.
During the 21st Century, like never before, risk and opportunity will go hand in hand, and only those organizations which are ready to address these challenges, will be positioned to survive and grow.
No organization in the private and public sectors should dare to take on these challenges alone. In this environment, there is no substitute for strategic advice and tactical support from intelligent minds.
As a global network of ‘connected thinkers’, the PRGN offers an innovative resource of skills, ideas and insights that makes us a valuable partner to accompany clients on their walk into an uncertain future.
No doubt those organisations which walk alone will walk fast, yet those which walk far, will have sought company for the journey. So, the question for all of us is: Who are we going to choose to walk with?
By walking alongside a member of the PRGN an organisation will:
- Think ‘global’, yet act within a local context
- Identify and understand the drivers of growth
- Empower stakeholders with whom they engage
- Target the shifting desires of consumer markets
- Care about what legacy their actions leave behind
Nelson Mandela once said:
If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.
The members of the PRGN know this well. The diversity of our language and culture, together with our intimate knowledge of, and networks of influence in, local markets, enables us to touch hearts worldwide.
Unsurprisingly, in Cape Town and South Africa, the setting for last week’s PRGN meeting and the group’s 20th anniversary, it has been our hearts which have been touched. And for this we will be forever grateful.
We have left behind a beautiful country: with the voices of its children echoing in our ears, the imagery of its culture and landscapes living in our minds, and an eternal spirit of friendship stored in our hearts.
* This is an edited version of a speech Mark Paterson delivered as President, Public Relations Global Network, at the PRGN’s 20th anniversary gala dinner at The Table Bay Hotel, Cape Town, South Africa, on Saturday, 21 April 2012.