New thinking in public relations

11 Mar

Where do the best ideas appear? In textbooks, in business books, in academic journals, in conference papers, on blogs, in conversation, in white papers?

The answer, of course, is in all and any of these.

In the last week, my attention has been grabbed by:

  • Philip Sheldrake's keynote address at the Euprera Spring Symposium
  • Consultant Martin Thomas's new book, Loose (review to follow)
  • Public Relations 2011: a free e-book of essays edited by Craig Pearce

Public Relations 2011 Public Relations 2011 contains essays from well-known public relations educators, consultants and bloggers.

In this uneven but interesting collection, Australian public relations academic Jim Macnamara calls for the teaching of more theory – in an explicit plug for his forthcoming book Public Relations Theories, Practices, Critiques.

In apparent contradiction, Southampton Solent PR course leader Catherine Sweet explains how educators should use practice examples to engage students.

Her point is that we should go beyond textbook case studies and engage through storytelling.

"My teaching has made me realise the power of ‘story telling’ as being the best form of PR and communication there is. As humans, we are hardwired to listen and learn; it’s how we acquire language in the first place."

Macnamara and Sweet are both right; there is no contradiction. Public relations educators should not oversimplify, though they should engage. Practice illustrates theory, and theory (as Macnamara argues) informs practice:

"Because theories are established through collection of substantial empirical evidence, extensive experimentation, testing and rigorous analysis in many different situations over many years – even decades in many cases – they provide a vast knowledge resource available to practitioners. Being unaware of or ignoring the body of knowledge accumulated by others before us and in other markets and societies is short-sighted and even foolhardy."

One Response to “New thinking in public relations”

  1. Emily Grainger 21/03/2011 at 11:52 am #

    I think that BOTH theory and practice are needed to engage and actually excite students. I am loving my final year assessed units at the moment, I have been given the opportunity (or should I say shove) to get out there and just do it. I’m currently running an awareness campaign for a Southampton charity, applying exactly what I have learnt during my degree. Without the tools (i.e. theory) I gained in my first few years though I don’t think I would be able to confidently run this campaign.
    However the experience I have gained from running INSTEAD of JUST planning a campaign has been invaluable! Putting said theory into practice helps me not only understand previous empirical evidence/experiments, but it also acts as a catalyst for me to figure out my own challenges. Lastly, (the cherry on top) is that this experience has helped me gain a job before even finishing my degree.

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