Dubai A successful communications strategy cannot operate in a vacuum but must be supported by sound policy decisions, Lord Tim Bell, Chairman of Chime Communications (Bell Pottinger), told delegates Wednesday at the 20th Public Relations World Congress.

"Reputation," Bell told the more than 450 delegates, "depends on what you do, not just what you say".

In his keynote address ahead of a panel discussion on ‘Public Relations in an Age of Dialogue: Challenges and Opportunities,' Bell acknowledged that some of his firm's clients are controversial. However, he argued that "everybody has the right to representation."

Bell emphasised that when any client — whether a government or private-sector firm — "gives assurances that they are ready to make changes to their policies or behaviour, then we are ready to work with them in repairing their reputations."

Underscoring that "how well we conduct our business is what matters," Bell said there is sometimes a fine line between public relations and propaganda. "Practice good PR, no matter how difficult the circumstances, and you will be OK," he said. "Practice propaganda and you deserve what you get."

Following his address, Bell joined a panel discussion which included Dr. Herbert Heitmann, Executive Vice-President, External Communications, Royal Dutch Shell; Daniel Tisch, Chair, Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management; Khalid Al Maeena, Editor-at-Large, Arab News; and Prema Sagar, Founder President, Public Relations Consultants Association of India.