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How to teach (step two)

20 Jun

So, you’ve built a relationship with a university lecturer and have given a guest lecture (see How to teach step one). Then what?

You may learn of opportunities for more regular – and paid – teaching. Universities are relying on more hourly-paid staff to front classes, given the constraints on recruitment and the demands on the time of permanent staff members (who have management roles as well as teaching timetables and research profiles). Sometimes these roles are advertised and formalised as ‘associate lecturer’ contracts. Often, they arise at short notice as members of the team are given other priorities, or fall sick, or take periods of study leave.

Hourly-paid teaching is unlikely to be lucrative, but it can be enjoyable. You get to teach students and avoid the course management and admin work. You’ll only be paid for your timetabled classroom hours: universities have standard pay rates and it’s usually in the £30-£40/hour range. This is a multiple of the minimum wage, but it includes preparation time, responding to student emails outside class and grading of assignments. Also, you can only earn these hours during the teaching period, which is only half of the year and you won’t receive travel expenses.

Some universities may be able to offer you a block of teaching on one day (so you can earn more hours and reduce the travel time and expense) – but on smaller courses the teaching commitment may be spread across the week making it harder to fit around your other work. But the advantage of an hourly-paid contract is that you are free to take on work if and when it suits you. I’d advise you not to chase hours at first: six hours of undergraduate teaching may sound more worthwhile, and three sessions repeating the same material to different groups may require less preparation.

But repetitive blocks of teaching can be boring and exhausting – an unfortunate combination for the lecturer and for the students.

Often, you’ll be part of a teaching team, delivering other people’s teaching content, and this will usually involve leading tutorials or seminars rather than delivering lectures. Yet there’s always flexibility in class for you to talk about the day’s news agenda, to use your own professional experience and for you to develop your teaching skills.

Teaching can be fun and it can be rewarding (like public relations, education is a relationship business). Hourly-paid work can be a good way to add something extra to your work portfolio.

In the final post, I’ll say what’s involved in gaining a permanent lecturer’s contract.

Defending the indefinable

25 Apr

‘Public relations can’t be defined.’

I read this often in student essays. It’s a consequence of teaching that offers multiple perspectives and encourages independent thought on the practice and profession.

But if public relations can’t be defined, then how do you explain the existence of so many different definitions? The evidence suggests that it’s too easy to define public relations, not too hard. It’s so easy you can have a go yourself (many students, practitioners and lecturers do).

Rather than discussing the definitions of PR, let’s consider its purpose. Let’s try to answer the question ‘why?’ rather than the question ‘what?’

If the purpose of PR is to generate publicity, then this simplifies matters. We can scrap the professional bodies, end most PR qualifications and merge the PR and advertising industries.

Professor Tom Watson argues here that there are two industries living unhappily together: a publicity business and a strategic communication business.

So what’s the purpose of strategic communication? Many would argue it’s legitimacy (and I agree): it’s about organisations retaining their ‘licence to operate’ in a complex world in which competitors, customers, politicians, activists and the media can all turn on an organisation in full public view.

This legitimacy business (it goes beyond reputation) sounds important; it should be professional.

This leads us to the intriguing prospect of a high calibre contest for the CIPR presidency between a practitioner who writes (Stephen Waddington) and an academic who talks to practitioners (Dr Jon White). Their discussion, sparked by another blog post by Tom Watson asking if the CIPR isn’t past its sell-by date, already has 80 comments on LinkedIn.

It’s an important debate, and it’s good to see engaged academics mixing it with intelligent practitioners.


4 Oct

Today's news that the PRCA now welcomes individual members is not a surprise. The PRCA's competitive moves onto the CIPR's territory have been clear for some time.

The CIPR has responded with a statement:

"We support healthy competition and we believe – as we have said repeatedly – that there is a role for a trade body representing consultancies and a Chartered body representing individual members. We have consistently maintained that it is in the interest of the profession to work together to promote professionalism, standards and public understanding of what  we do. It is for this reason that we believe the PRCA’s announcement does not represent a step taken in the best interests of the profession."

I also support competition, but recognise that in some fields representation is better served by a single voice. Would workers be better served by joining two trades unions claiming to represent their interests, or one? Would one or two be a more powerful lobbying/negotiating force?

There are some 60,000 people in UK public relations roles. Scarcely a quarter of these are members of either the CIPR or the PRCA today. The professional project demands more members and a clear voice for the profession.

We had one body from the late 1940s to the late 1960s (the then Institute of Public Relations). The PRCA broke away in 1969 when consultancies felt they needed stronger representation. For four decades we have had a professional body representing individual practitioners (now the CIPR) and a trade association representing PR consultancies (the PRCA).

Equally, there used to be trades unions representing boilermakers among many other specialist trades. Now there are general unions like GMB and Unison.

I would prefer to see one PR representative body in the UK – and still predict it will have to happen by negotiation. If need be, it will happen by the choices of thousands of members.

I already pay my subscription to the CIPR. I'm publicly supportive (but willing to air my criticisms of the body in private). I'm going to keep this membership, so the question for me is should I pay an additional £100 to join the PRCA. My answer today is no. If everyone makes a positive decision one way or another, the outcome will be one of these bodies emerging stronger than the other.

It will take longer than a negotated outcome – and will be more expensive – but it will lead to the same result. Vote with your wallet.

Is there a PR personality?

18 Mar

Warning: this post contains generalisations. But remember that theories are abstractions (ie generalisations) based on evidence such as observation.

I fear that we are producing too much convergent thinking. There have always been social pressures to conform in any society – but the world of Facebook likes and Twitter retweets echoes and amplifies this tendency to converge on campaigns, communities and conversations where people can share common ground.

Public relations by its nature seeks consensus – and public relations practitioners will tend therefore to be more conventional than average. This tendency is pronounced among in-house practitioners who must be organisation men and women.

This works well in the good times. But what about in uncertain, unpredictable times? Where are the warning voices? Where is the encouragement of divergent thinking?

Where will the fresh ideas come from if we're all of a similar age, ethnicity, educational background and gender, sharing similar interests? Who will be able to warn of dangers ahead?

We're far enough into the year to know that this will be one of those milestones in history: 1848, 1989, 2011. The tectonic plates have literally shifted. These are uncertain times; there are many risks ahead.

We need to encourage diversity in its true meaning – and bring in fresher thinking from different disciplines and perspectives. There's more to the diversity debate than class, gender, age and ethnicity.

Public relations – or communication?

23 Jan

It's a good question: what's the difference between public relations and communications?

It matters because there's a century of investment in the idea of public relations: it has the professional bodies and trade associations, graduates have invested in PR degrees, many jobs are offered as PR roles. So it's not going to be easy to ditch the phrase.

Yet some are keen to try. In the Stockholm Accords, each mention of 'public relations' is followed by 'and communication management'. So they're hedging their bets. But what's the difference?

While all public relations roles involve communications, not all communications roles can be described as public relations. So communications can be seen to be a broader area.

Within universities, communications is widely taught as a scientific discipline. Public relations remains more of an art than a science.

In practice, public relations can be seen as an applied communications discipline. PR degrees are a good route to employability, even if the eventual roles turn out to be in corporate communication, marketing communication or corporate affairs.

Though there is a real distinction between public relations and communications, I'm neutral on the perennial debate over whether to use communication (singular) or communications (plural). The advocates of the former explain that the latter refers to telephone networks and networking protocols: information and communications technology.

We continue to offer public relations degrees, but we've changed the name of our subject group to Public Relations and Communications in order to include distinct courses such as journalism. This is clearly a communications discipline; and it's equally clearly not public relations (though there's some overlap).


Guest lecture series: all welcome

15 Oct

Here are the remaining talks in our autumn public lecture series 2010, open to students and visitors.

Lectures are 5-6pm in Lecture Theatre A, Rose Bowl, Leeds Metropolitan University, LS1 3HB.

'Getting a coherent social media strategy off the ground'
Dominic Burch, Head of Corporate Communications, Asda (Wal-Mart UK)
Monday 18 October

'Future proof PR'
Paul Matthews, Corporate Media Relations Manager, Unilever plc
Monday 1 November

'PR in the boardroom'
Victoria Tomlinson, Chief Executive, Northern Lights
Monday 15 November

'PR in a changing world'
Justin McKeown, Regional Director, Grayling
Monday 29 November

'PR through the looking glass'
Rob Pittam, BBC Business Correspondent delivering the Claire Mascall Award Lecture
Monday 6 December 

The big question: are we worth it?

8 Oct

At the start of an undergraduate course, we pose a straightforward question: what is PR?

With more advanced students, we progress to what is the purpose of PR? These discussions can often become rather abstract and idealistic.

Now, there is a more pressing big question facing all in the business: how can we prove the value of PR?

There has been a deep recession; many European countries are facing painful cuts in public spending. Political rhetoric in the UK equates PR jobs with waste and propaganda.

So this is a time for industry leaders to defend PR by making a clear statement of the value it provides to organisations and society. It's a discussion that goes well beyond debates about evaluation and goes to the heart of organisational purpose and sustainability.

Are we worth it? Can we identify the universal value delivered by the public relations function?

Continue reading

Industry bodies: a call for commonsense

3 Sep

It's a question that baffles undergraduates and even young PR practitioners. What's the difference between the CIPR and the PRCA? Because the question begs another: why does a small national industry/profession of some 50,000 practitioners need more than one professional body?

Historically, the PRCA (founded in 1969) split from the CIPR (the then IPR was founded in 1948) in order to represent the interests of public relations consultancies.

So for several decades, the difference was easily stated:

  • The CIPR is a professional body representing individual members (up to 10,000 of them)
  • The PRCA is a trade association for large PR consultancies (over 100 of them, employing some 5,000 people)

The distinction was a real one. This left the CIPR responsible for professional qualifications (such as the CIPR Diploma) while the PRCA focused on its Consultancy Management Standard.

Yet while understandable, it was not entirely satisfactory for an ambitious PR consultant whose employer pays one membership to the PRCA, but who still faces the individual choice of paying extra to join the CIPR. Nor was it necessarily in the wider interest of the professionalisation of public relations.

It's time to ask the question again: what's the difference between the CIPR and the PRCA because the distinction between consultancies and individuals no longer remains. Here's how the PRCA describes itself in its latest press release: 'the PRCA is the professional body that represents UK PR consultancies, in-house communications teams and PR freelancers'.

That includes individual members; that extends that definition of a consultancy to include in-house teams. So who does it exclude? Individuals working in-house in the public sector? Public relations lecturers?

Let's be clear. What's going on is a turf war. The CIPR has a Diploma; and so does the PRCA. One offers special interest groups; so does the other. There's a struggle to become the dominant professional body in our industry.

In this age of austerity, while it's fashionable to crush quangos, how much longer can we accept our money being spent on two London headquarters, two sets of management salaries, two overlapping initiatives in every aspect of the business?

In terms of free market competition, the winner is likely to absorb the loser. In terms of the wider public interest, it's a nonsense to have two competing bodies doing one thing (it weakens representation).

I call for a banging of heads together (except that the CIPR lacks a permanent head at present).

Change is happening, more predicted

2 Jun

Cipr web There's a new look to the CIPR website this week. One obvious change is that the site is now optimised for social media; it succeeds in looking both cleaner and more dynamic.

This has to be a good thing – but I'm even keener on a cleaner, more dynamic professional body lurking under the bonnet. There are some good signs, but I'd like to see a much more radical transformation. Here's one suggestion.

The body of UK public relations practitioners is not that large: there are only some 50,000 of us, small enough to fit inside many premier league football grounds. Yet this small industry has two professional bodies. The CIPR, representing some 10,000 individual members, and the PRCA, representing 100+ large consultancies employing around 5,000 people. There is some overlap between these memberships, and it has become even more blurred since the PRCA started welcoming in-house teams as consultancy members. There's overlap in qualifications too (both have their own Advanced Certificate and Diploma course: same name, but rather different content.)

Competition's a good thing – but confusion isn't. On reflection, this split serves no one except the officers of these two bodies (there would be fewer roles available in one merged association).

The historic logic that the PRCA was needed to represent the interests of consultancies no longer applies now that in-house teams in the public sector are becoming members. It's illogical – and it's time for a change. There are bigger challenges out there (like embracing other disciplines that threaten to form their own bodies like public affairs/lobbyists, experts in analyst relations etc).

Pr conversations The other makeover this week is to PR Conversations. It was always an international, collaborative effort, but its driving force Toni Muzi Falconi (who I'm meeting in Italy next week) has now handed it on to his collaborators.

Its intention is to spark a global conversation between practitioners, academics and others about the role,status and development of public relations and communications and I think it has already made a big contribution in this direction. More is promised.

I think PR Conversations offers something very promising to the industry. It builds bridges between thinkers and doers and it opens the doors to debate. It also shows the potential of group blogs to challenge the academic publishers who continue to support little-read journals, affordable only by large university libraries and so inaccessible to most.

If public relations is to gain professional status (a question that's also very open to debate), then it needs above all these two things: a strong and unified professional body, and a valuable exchange of ideas between practitioners and academics.

PR: a manifesto for change

5 Apr

David Phillips – author, consultant, academic and Fellow of the Institute of Public Relations – has built on news of the departure of the institute's director general Colin Farrington to issue an impassioned call for change within the UK's membership body for public relations practitioners.

As ever with David, there's much that's brilliant and far-sighted here, but I fear that his piece sets so many hares running that it won't amount to a clear manifesto for action.

So, to keep things simple, here are two action points that I had previously kept private, but will now air in public.

  • We need a UK forum for public relations educators and researchers. It could have been the CIPR's Education and Skills sectoral group, but this was taken in an entirely different direction. The CIPR's choice is either to facilitate this group under its wing, or to allow this group to operate independently (in the model of the Academy of Marketing or the US Institute for Public Relations).
  • University course approvals are a mess. There are CIPR-approved courses that are no longer recruiting, and well-established courses that are not approved. Public relations education at university level is at risk because changes in higher education funding pose particular problems for the 'new' teaching universities with their PR degree programmes. For the sake of the students and for the reputation and distinctiveness of the 'profession', the CIPR either needs to grasp this nettle or resign from its self-appointed role as an arbiter of educational quality.