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.)