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Book things

Good crowd assembling for the VC’s launch of my book in Sydney this December

Book launch

Nice post from PRIA and link to launch

PRIA blog on book launch

Also here’s an earlier blog from Noel Turnbull, of RMIT

Noel Turnbull on book

And delighted to hear that Chris Galloway presented a paper to ECREA on the links between Jungian ethics and communication crises.

cover

I have participated in several joint sessions between academics and practitioners of public relations in the past few weeks: at the Euprera conference in Brussels, I facilitated a Q & A between leading representatives from practice and the academics attending the conference (details here: See Professional Voices #2); the same conference also heard a keynote address from Brendan Hodgson, Director and Head of Digital Practice, Hill & Knowlton Brussels; and the World PR Forum Research Colloquium was attended by approximately 50% practitioners and academics, leading to a range of discussions, including a special session on undergraduate curriculum design.

The following observations are based on these experiences.

1) The first event, a discussion panel of senior practitioners, illustrated the difficulties faced in trying to raise ethical awareness in practice. The participants found it very hard to shift from their corporate positions – understandable given their roles and responsibilities – but disappointing as the focus was on learning from experience.  When I gave examples from my own time as a practitioner, distance was swiftly placed between my experience and theirs, even though questions from the floor suggested that most PR academics hear student reports from their internships every year,  revealing widespread routine abuses of trust and power.  The panelists were unable to accept the reality of such claims., reverting to the old ‘bad apples’ defense. There was also a common reduction of ethics to decisions about which clients to accept;  some defended their right to represent tobacco or arms manufacturers, as long as individual employees were free to opt out of such campaigns. One interesting example of an agency exercising its right to reject a client on ethical grounds seemed (details were obviously withheld) to concern a country in the middle east demanding work was completed according to their values rather than those of the agency. Overall, the discussion was lively but demonstrated a determined avoidance of reflexivity. The questions we were asking, as academics at this conference on communication ethics, were clearly not being addressed in contemporary workplaces, on this evidence.

2) The keynote speech from Brendan Hodgson of Hill and Knowlton offered an interesting overview of the wholesale relocation of PR to the digital environment and introduced me to rather scary concepts such as native advertising where the traditional indicators dividing ads from print copy are completely invisible, though Hodgson suggested that it was an insult to the consumer to suggest they couldn’t recognise when online copy in a digital newspace is paid for. One strand of his narrative was the inordinately hard time multinational companies, such as oil and related industries, have when ambushed by dastardly activist groups who distort the whole information process to challenge the assertions published by corporations. Interesting to see them portrayed, over and over, as victims. This was not the only point where the 5:1 (or higher) ratio between PR: journalists was mentioned. The consequences for democracy rarely featured in such discussions.

However, the aspect which drew most ire from the audience was the continual reference to ‘you academics’ and the somewhat patronising tone in which the practices of PR were patiently spelled out. He berated us for obtuse language in a section called Beyond Jargon, which explored the ‘purchasing decision journey’! After one heated exchange, I just asked the audience to indicate how many had practitioner backgrounds; Hodgson seemed very taken aback when about 80% of those present raised their hands. Later, in conversation he was passionate that students should have access to real world practice, apparently unaware that almost all PR courses have mandatory workplace elements.

3) This knowledge was also absent from the discussion on curriculum in which practitioners repeatedly urged academics to move away from theory and make sure students were fully skilled on entry. This discussion was framed almost entirely as a menu of skills required by employers, following on from the US Committee on Public Relations Education reports, most recently The Professional Bond (2006); one comment that the requirement to write, think and communicate were actually those of any competent adult made little impression, nor did contributions about changing frameworks in the UK and Australia for example, which require a range of graduate competence regardless of degree subject, including those prescribed by the report.

Conclusions:

1) Practitioners are still fixated by education as a supplier of skilled entrants, with little regard for the needs of the profession for long-term leadership, acquired through reflection and engagement with a wide range of thought,  not just the ability to write a blog.  I imagine sometimes the cohorts we could have produced, not so long ago, who were completely up to speed with MySpace.

2) Practitioners seem to have limited time or inclination to reflect on practice, leading to shallow, defensive positions when challenged.  This has serious implications for ethics, suggesting that the short term, concrete demands of clients will always win over longer term reflection on values.

3) Academics have failed to explain the realities of the educational world, including the  constraints and demands of our institutions and journals, and the opportunities we offer for reflection and engagement with deeper issues of relevance to practice. Given the excellent mix of practice and academics at the WPRF, it might have been helpful to have offered a simple introduction about academic language and the peer review process, for example.

4) Academics have also not clearly explained the actual content of most PR degrees, with their mix of theory and practice, the balance of workplace and classroom (and online) learning and the emphasis on problem solving, team work and project management which will be of far more long term value to employers than technical know how.

Finally, Betteke van Ruler once suggested that practitioners were from Venus, academics from Mars (van ruler 2005) ; in the past decade it does not appear that these bodies are any closer.

Surprise!

Conference started with generous words for book from Prof Ron Arnett and now I leave with Best Paper prize (slides here Euprera2014). Official announcement here Euprera prize winners.

Good trip, eh? And now off to swanky dinner @ Maison du Cygne

Euprera 2014 book focus

Amazing experience listening to keynote speaker Prof. Ron Arnett build speech around my book, revealing depths I didn’t know it had. He talked about the ground of ethics, about communication as secondary to content and the need not for more dialogue, which can lead to empty engagement, but capacity to,listen to monologue, to hear the other.
In particular he highlighted book’s acceptance of fallibility and multiplicity as opposed to modernity’s unipolar linear insistence on one positive narrative. Role of shadow strongly welcomed as counter balance to this story. Really wonderful to hear my work reflected back with such depth of reflection.

Book events

The book is now published Public relations ethics and professionalism: the shadow of excellence

and my copies have arrived in Australia. It looks sort of ordinary – perhaps I envisaged some illuminated gold-leaf manuscript, commensurate to the effort involved.

But it already has a kind of life – hence the invite to University of New South Wales seminar series,

10_2014_sam_seminar_Fawkes

and, rather excitingly, a heads-up that the book will get a mention in Professor Ron Arnett’s (Duquesne University) keynote address to the forthcoming Euprera conference in Brussels this September.

A moment at last to try and collect thoughts from 13th annual communications ethics conference at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, from which I returned last week. Non stop since then, visiting London and Leeds, but want to record a really wonderful event before it fades.

As always with a new conference, there is the implicit code to unlock: are they jeans or suits people, to be found in sessions or coffee bars, self-important or -deprecating? My conclusions = smart but not formal in dress! very formal in address (everyone called by title not forename) but delightfully engaging and curious about the their research and ideas.

The main theme was rhetoric and ethics, the speciality of the host department. It was a little daunting at first to be caught in so many conversations about Aristotle s 4th book of ethics or Heidegger’s later works, all conducted by my fellow guest speakers, mostly professors of philosophy. I may not quite follow the US system of titles but I think I was the only keynote speaker below prof status. Still, I decide to spend the time learning from them rather than being scared and have come back determined to read Heidegger, on dwelling places, Arendt on the polis, and Foucault on embodied ethics.

While some scholars treated language as technical experiment, most were deeply humane in their explorations. Very taken by Dr Ramsey Eric Ramsey’s presentation which used a sequence of paintings to illustrate points about dwelling places, including thus one.
Baying Hound, JMW Turner
It resonated with me as all that is lost.

My own keynote speech had been scaring me for weeks before discovering how august the company was, but as with all real scholars in my experience, they were warmly welcoming and interested in me as a newcomer to their event. As a result, I felt supported not undermined and to my astonishment managed to combine the advice given at a Sydney writers festival by Lucinda Holdforth, a leading Australian author and speechwriter, and David Roach, playwright and screenwriter, both friends of novelist Charlotte Wood. Lucinda said prepare everything, write it all out, rehearse and rehearse, so if nerves paralyse you, there’s something to hold on to. Improvise, David said, keep it edgy and you’ll keep it alive. Somehow managed to do both, using the script as a guide not a straitjacket. Even cracked jokes! Whole event astonishingly enjoyable. Whodda thunk?
Oh yeah, using new software too. So bored by power point, tried Prezi.com.
Loved it.

transcendent function in Jungian ethics

First reviews

I’m very touched by the generous and thoughtful responses to my book from the range of international professors of communication who have endorsed my forthcoming book (due out in July). Makes me feel like I’ve written the book I wanted to write.

Book reviews for Public relations ethics and professionalism: the shadow of excellence

 

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