By Gloria Lombardi

I recently chatted with Ketchum‘s Stephen Waddington about the ways in which he has been helping to shape the future of the PR profession through digital communications.

Stephen welcomed me at his London office by handing me two books that he has written in the last couple of years. He said referring to the first one: “this one is the reason why I am here today at Ketchum, as their Digital and Social Media Director for Europe.”

The book in question is Brand Anarchy. Written with Steve Earl in 2012, it describes how social media communications have been dramatically changing the PR landscape: brands and individuals are becoming publishers of content.

That successful work not only gave Stephen the opportunity of working at the internationally famous PR agency, but also prompted him to write a further book: #BrandVandals. This one is the first printed volume ever written with a hashtag in the title. Written once again in collaboration with Earl this year, the book was “meant to shock”. The authors developed the Brand Anarchy story by describing brands as capable of mobilising themselves on the Internet. For those organisations unable to engage with individuals through social media there are big reputational damages.

An ever-evolving career

With a strong passion for both technology and writing, Stephen has been always involved in digital communications. He talked about the various PR agencies he worked with since the 90s: A Plus, Weber, and co-founding Rainier PR, and Speed with Steve Earl. Stephen believes in the ability of reshaping our personal and professional identities accordingly to the changes faced by our society. Get prepared; this subject might be the content of his next book.

When Stephen talked about his current role at Ketchum, he said “I have got a great job here.” Clearly the agency has been giving him faith and support to his social and digital communication activity. He has been helping Ketchum’s business across Europe and the agency’s clients worldwide to build their own digital competence and social media teams.

Stephen is a man who practises what he preaches. He wants to see the behavioural benefits of using digital communications not just at his clients’ workplaces but also, and especially, inside Ketchum. Ketchum’s employees are encouraged and supported to use social media throughout their working hours, sharing their thoughts and works on the networks. As a way of reminding the business of the importance of having these social conversations flowing, the company has put screens on the office’s walls, which display all the colleagues’ tweets.

Not only writing, and working at Ketchum…a vision for CIPR

Waddington has been involved with the Charted Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) for quite a few years. He does not hide the fact that he’s had a love and hate relationship with the institute along the way.

As an early adopter of blogging and social networks, Stephen was disappointed in 2006, when the CIPR Director of that time, dismissed social media as a fad.  Waddington was clearly supporting the opposite view.

“One of my favourite books is The Cluetrain Manifesto written in 2000,” said Stephen. “Many of its 95 theses around a new connected world were already becoming a reality in 2006.”

Waddington carried on ‘doing social’, realising the potential of self-publishing and owned media. Every now and then, he blogged his disappointment about the CIPR “still not getting social media.”

Ultimately, in 2010 things changed. Jay O’Connor was appointed as the new President of the organisation. She had a different view from her predecessors, and invited Stephen to put up or shut up. O’Connor invited him to join the body and help to shape the future of the PR profession. Since then, a series of changes have been implemented at the CIPR, including the creation of a Social Media panel, as well as the establishment of new standards and rigor for the communication industry.

It is a work in progress and Waddington is very determined to bring it forward. From 1 January 2014 he will be the new President of the organisation. His vision is to continue transforming the body, building a large community, and also helping to drive professionalism. He believes that, with the newly appointed CEO Alaistair McCapra, the CIPR has a bright future ahead. “McCapra has a strong operational background with a broad expertise and knowledge of many types of member organisations and institutions.”

Good news also for the internal communications industry; Waddington is a keen supporter of the CIPR Inside – the Charted Institute of Public Relations specialist group for internal communicators. He believes the group is making a great job at involving and engaging its members, providing them with the kind of support that the internal comms profession requires.

“What many still do not realise is that there isn’t a clear-cut distinction between different types of audiences any more. With social media internal and external stakeholders have the same opportunities to receive and produce information today. Internal audiences are potentially the most powerful advocates for any organisation. Yet, many companies are still in the fear stage. They want to keep total control of how their staff approaches these new forms of communications.

“So, back to the CIPR Inside, they have been implementing lots of initiatives to change things for internal communicators.”

Reflections on the future of social communications

“My job is to make myself redundant.” With that Waddington meant that social should be the norm. We should not talk about it in terms of vandalism anymore, but see it as something that nicely integrates with our natural way of living and working.

Stephen quotes the Age of Context, by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel. In their newly released book the authors describe five forces – mobile, social media, data, sensors and locations – that have been changing our way of perceiving things, people and relationships. These forces are driving the future of communication. “This book is describing what I see as the progression of our career in PR.”

Finally, Waddington shared his PR predictions for the future. “Public Relations is either going to be very valuable or it will become very irrelevant. To find itself in the first of these two situations, PR needs to position itself at the heart of the business.

Public Relations has all the potential to become the glue that connect an organisation with its publics, internally and externally. We need to go back to the future.”

You can connect with Stephen with his blog Two-way Street and find him on Twitter @wadds.