Suddenly I see

11 Sep

Having participated in a busy day at the CIPR academic conference in Stirling, here's what I think the real agenda was. Not the motivation for individual research projects nor the competition to be the most prominent hub of public relations education in the UK. The conference theme was the 'PR professional project' and the challenge to all academics and educators is to make the case that public relations is – or can be – practised for the public good.

Symmetry/excellence, a stakeholder/relationship management approach, the 'marketplace of ideas' in a free society, the use of public relations by activists as well as by corporations, concerns about diversity amongst practitioners, the ideas are there to make the case. The problem is, this thinking does not reach enough practitioners (though degrees and the CIPR Diploma qualification are making a difference) and public relations thought is often isolated from business and management education. An academic inferiority complex was another strong thread at the conference.

Philip Young's paper on the representation of PR in popular literature was a highlight of day one. It illustrated these themes surprisingly well, since the effective practitioners – usually male – were devious and manipulative while the ineffective practitioners were frequently female. We're damned if we do, and damned if we don't. Yet fifty years ago the PR role needed explaining in these novels; now there's at least there's some level of recognition.

UPDATE: I received several requests for the slides, so I'm making them public here on Slideshare. (In the event, the time I had to talk was shorter than expected and interrupted by a fire alarm.)

2 Responses to “Suddenly I see”

  1. David Phillips 20/09/2009 at 6:33 pm #

    Richard, thank you for the slides. For those of us who could not be present, it is great to see the use of Slideshare. I expect that, if only to be polite, academic colleagues will also add their conference contributions for the wider interests in the industry and will tag the contributions to make them searchable.
    I got as far as the fifth slide and then had to write.
    Being a practitioner, who occasionally teaches I choked!
    Students and practitioners who can’t use pen, pencil or keyboard should not be in writing professions. I recognise that most universities, the CIPR, PRCA and local Tech college will have to put on intensive remedial classes in how to wind up WordPress, tag a Delicious bookmark and point an mobile phone at an Augmented Reality icon.
    I also recognise that some people who are now working in PR, will become specialist just as flint knappers have done. But realistically, for those of us who are not archaeologies, they are just – quaint.
    If, in the last ten years, communicators and organisational relationships experts have not been taking out a few minutes to enhance their skills, it would be rude to call them professional.
    The reality is that we have to skill up, and really fast. Go to night school. Don’t clutter the universities They have better things to do.
    We have to work our student’s harder. Much harder.
    And this is where I part company from Gareth. There is NOTHING, that clients and children can offer academia when it comes to the implementation of internet mediated public relations and that small part of it nominally called ‘Social Media’.
    I work in this space. The quality of knowledge and thinking; ability to tutor clients’ boards and take the internal PR and Marketing managers out of the 20th century just does not exist among PR practitioners. They have nothing to teach academics.
    Of course, proactive involvement by students in testing theory to their own satisfaction is required and experiential involvement in social media craft to show how the theory works is fine. It can be left the laboratory assistant to supervise. All it does is prepare students for a form of (internet mediated) communication that will have morphed into something else by the time they rise to a position of power and influence.
    Basically, we can leave all this craft stuff to Henley where they are still happy to continue to teach bankers how to manage companies.
    As most people know, marketing is dead. Why are we still obsessed with it? By the time students have a real role; there will be no marketing in the present accepted sense. It’s time to take marketing out of public relations.
    How on earth can one teach a ‘social media module’ in a PR degree?
    Internet mediated public relations is the (and the only) writing that runs through the complete PR stick of rock. For example, how can anyone teach ethics without reference to the impact of the cloud on society? All else is just kant!
    This is not a curriculum issue. I know there are (many) undergraduate courses that do not incorporate internet mediation in every lecture and seminar. This has to change and it cannot wait years and years for a full blown course revision.
    Then again, we might look at much PR research.
    If the best of our industry’s ‘research’ prompted the big corporate social responsibility spenders to drop most people into recession, we have to look deeper into what PR is really about. There are some profound research opportunities.
    Online we can use millions of interactions in the proofs we seek. We can delve deep into discourse and track relationships in time series analysis that can offer proofs in the way relationships are formed and mature online, in personal relationships, group dynamics, interactive games, through knowledge exchange and much more. Here is much more real research for Master’s and Doctoral dissertation.
    Such findings are about publics and relationships but are also at the heart of value creation at both micro and macro levels of economics.
    Ho! Could a PR course leader talk a university into believing that PR is key to economic development of countries, corporations and even universities?
    Perhaps, perhaps or perhaps that is many steps too far. I suggest that a proposal like that would prompt an answer to the effect that PR academics should get back into their box.
    Do the academics suffer from a problem of other practitioners? Or do they have the foresight, aggression and muscle of other disciplines.
    Where are the visionaries?
    One of our UK universities increased its medical courses a couple of years ago.
    Lucky students?
    Now the NH service is about to cut itself in half and yet recruiting a skilled and sentient Digital PR exec is difficult and very expensive and guess what? The same university axed its digital PR teaching budget and manning.
    Another university raised zillions to teach and manage professional sports that could not sustain endless revenue growth even before the recession. Nor could this centre of academic wisdom identify the decline in fan attention matching the shrinking screens size from the wall-mounted pub screen to an iPhone. At the same time, this university could not afford to put PR students in front of screens for digital seminars, assuming of course, the availability of online PR tutors to engage them.
    Weak PR academics in universities and Neanderthal Vice Chancellors, it seems, are compelling tutors to live in history and engage in craft training, the mincing dancing masters teaching at the whim of the Exchequers’ tune.
    The new public relations needs to understand what Clay Shirky expressed so eloquently in ‘Here Comes Everybody’ and all the post ‘Blown to Bits’ (published ten years ago) thinking (Benkler anyone?).
    The way economies work and the markets and currencies for ‘value goods’ is changed. This transformation has changed PR. It now has the potential to create very real wealth.
    So, where does that leave us now.
    Undergraduate blogging lessons?
    Post graduate teaching that does not challenge the nature of the firm – after the demise of the banks is a firm still the nexus of contracts?
    Doctoral theses that do not explicate values in relationships?
    Post doctoral thinking that has not observed the consequence of children playing multiplayer online games and their grand-touring grandparents twitpic-ing slum dwellers in Africa to global audiences.
    The internet has upset notions of the nature of the firm, empowered the generations, changed the dynamic of (global) political discourse, relationships, values and exchange.
    I think it’s time to look much higher. Arm the students to be the cultural leaders of tomorrow and know that this will make them the creators of wealth long into the future in a values-driven-relationships society.
    Oh! and to do that, the internet will mediate their every step.
    Perhaps we now need to go beyond Teaching Social Media.

  2. Richard Bailey 21/09/2009 at 10:51 am #

    That’s a very long comment, David. I may need to come back to it.
    But for now, a wider word of explanation. David Phillips is like a prophet: he’s been warning the PR business of the need to shape up to meet the challenge of the internet since the mid 1990s and he’s now warning that universities need to up their game too.
    Where we may agree is that, on balance, it’s the practice of PR that needs to change more than its theories.
    Online Public Relations by Phillips and Young made the case for public relations as relationship management: not a new perspective, but one that takes on new urgency in the Web 2.0 world.

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