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Depth Public Relations

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Pt I

In my recent keynote speech to Euprera Annual Congress at the Universidad de Navarra I argued that

a) the global culture has become pathologically performative, emphasising outward aspects of life over inner

b) that public relations has benefitted from and contributed to this culture, and that

c) the culture is exploitative, discriminatory, narcissistic, illusory, hyperactive and killing the planet.

The sociologist Harmut Rosa calls it a ‘frenetic standstill’. I suggest the term ‘masquerade’ to reflect the performances that drive individuals and institutions in contemporary western culture.

Covid-19 pressed pause. Do we just rewind or imagine something different? More stuff or more future?

If we choose different, I argue we have to go inward. In the talk I referenced Carl Jung, Harmut Rosa, Hannah Arendt and the novelist Marilynne Robinson, all of whom urge a turn inward to reconnect with the human, especially in times of darkness and confusion (references below)/

I also drew on several talks and courses organised by St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace which introduced me to sustainability professor Jem Bendell, Nigerian storyteller Bayo Akolomafe, and Bruna Kadletz, a Brazilian dentist turned activist working with the world’s refugees..

Pt II

Depth Public Relations is built on the following foundations (full workings will be revealed in forthcoming book).

1) Slowing Down

‘The times are urgent: let us slow down’ says Bayo Akolomafe. Slow food, slow journalism slow science (see also Dorling, 2020).

Social media demand instant responses and constant presence; private and public spheres are fused and spinning faster all the time. PR needs strategies to create space for reflection.

However, like Rosa, I prefer the inner/outer axis to the faster/slower. Slow bullshit is still BS.

2) Shadow Work

Going in means facing up to things the masquerade is designed to distract us from.

Carl Jung calls it shadow work, the purpose of which is wholeness. It means breaking old patterns without knowing what comes next. Living in the liminal.

Hannah Arendt, in The Human Condition (1958) says: It is [necessary to] walk in the discomfort that sometimes accompanies reflection, (p70).

The key shadow for PR, I reckon, is the part the industry has played in denying climate change: it’s role in the construction and maintenance of the ‘denial machine’ is fully documented in Almiron and Xifra’s (2020) excellent book. It is not possible to read this and insist that PR is a force for social good, as so many scholars and practitioners do. Maturity requires contemplation of harm done.

3) Finding what’s real

In a world of illusion and fakery, how to connect to the real? A common question in these times, of course. Global movements are seeking meaning amid the meaningless. Many start with the body: the wonder and simplicity of breath; kinship with the non-human world; our common transience. How might such connections change PR?

4) Develop Resilience

Connecting with our collective fragility, witnessing the loss of species. the suffering already here and still to come, requires resilience. The Deep Adaptation Network brings together professional groups facing global change – there is space here for PR to mitigate some of the harm done.

5) Connect

Depth PR is about digging deep in order to connect at depth, not to isolate or withdraw. Jung says we have to connect with ourselves to connect to others. Not shouting but listening (real listening, not the tick box ‘consultations’). Young people are building communities that communicate in very different ways to those dominant in PR theory and practice, including learning from indigenous peoples’. Listening may require not-fixing, a challenge for PR, perhaps?

6) Change

Practice is responding to growing pressure for change. Agencies are branding themselves as actors for change; ESG is a growing force in organisations. But without depth much of this will still be too close to green washing or purpose washing – a continuation of the masquerade, just with different costumes. Depth PR requires different conversations.

The academy is still teaching old tunes, reflecting the embedded nature of PR within business schools. Pressures on universities preclude the kind of creativity required for this moment. Academe should, of course, be the home of reflection – perhaps it is time to remember that role?

Change will come – PR can participate in that change or just watch, but either way, change is coming.

What do you think? Still writing the final chapter – all feedback to these ideas welcome.

REFERENCES

ALMIRON, N. & JORDI, X. 2020. Climate change denial and public relations: strategic communication and interest groups in climate interaction, London, New York, Routledge.

ARENDT, H. 1958. The human condition, Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

Dorling, D. (2020). Slowdown : The end of the great acceleration–and why it’s good for the planet, the economy, and our lives. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Robinson, M. (2010). Absence of mind : the dispelling of inwardness from the modern myth of the self. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Rosa, H. (2019). Resonance : a sociology of the relationship to the world (J. C. Wagner, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Polity.

jonathan_wise_reclaiming_agency_rachel_manns_nov_2019_27-min.jpg

(from https://www.reclaimingagency.com/meet-us)

Jonathan Wise is an adman calling his industry to account for its contribution to climate collapse.

In his late 30s, at the height of a career as a senior planning strategist, Jonathan’s MA course in Sustainability made him think again about the assumptions of endless growth and resource depletion that underpin advertising success.

“I felt I’d been stupid – not the smartest guy in the room, after all. I’d been duped and my identity was challenged,” Jonathan said when I interviewed him last week for my forthcoming book. The experience triggered deep self-questioning about what it means to be a good person, and a good man in particular.

Retreats in nature and time with a Maori community led him to leave his job and create the Comms Lab and Reclaiming Agency, which offers space for advertising people at all levels to reflect on practice and consider whether there are better ways of doing business.

At a recent Radical Resilience webinar organised by St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, Wise gave the example of car ads which now feature groups of people sharing cars, a move away from the man and his machine trope. Still selling cars, though.

More radical is the manifesto at the heart of the Change the Brief demands which emerged from a day Wise and others organised last July where ad execs gathered to reflect on the industry’s role in the climate emergency and consider what steps they might take to challenge ‘business as usual’. It is an impressive set of principles (including don’t do work that increases carbon footprint), and the details of the process which gave rise to them are worth reading in full (here: ad industry acts

My question is: what is PR doing that begins to match this?

The CIPR has set up a committee that has been stalled by the virus; the PRCA has linked up with the Advertising Association to develop joint campaigns (thanks Rachel Picken for info) (PRCA).

How can PR leadership ensure that actions on climate change are more than skin deep, go further than adding ‘sustainable’ to slogans and brand images? Catherine Arrow‘s piece sets out some of the challenges, now and in the likely future.

Like advertisers, PR people have the skills, creativity and intellect to change the story. B Corporations might be one route. I suspect deep adaptation is required, as suggested at the Radical Resilience event. I hope the work I’m doing on deep communication principles will help. I doubt it will be in time.

Fame at last

Very nice interview by Richard Bailey for the excellent 50over50 series.

Full text in link below.

JF interview

PRPlaceJF

Re-setting PR

 

Opinion | The Racial Time Bomb in the Covid-19 Crisis - The New ...

 

In this Great Pause, as some have called it, many people are cleaning house, literally and metaphorically. As actual housekeeping makes no discernible difference, I turn instead to my erstwhile profession.

I’ve been working on a book for Routledge called Public Relations and Depth Communication: Behind the Mask for ages (Book blurb ) about new directions for public  relations and allied communication sectors, but dragging my feet. Partly, I think, because I had given up on the possibility of change. Unable to imagine what might halt the relentless tide of promotion, or enact a shift back from the outer attention-seekers to the inner conversations needed for individual and collective sanity.

Until now. It is terrible that we humans seem unable to contemplate risks repeatedly spelled out to us until the fire, famine or, as now, pestilence, is at the door. But as writer Paul Kingsnorth makes clear it would be even more terrible not to use this moment to re-evaluate priorities.

There is a particular urgency for those in the communication business. For example, in political communication, it is apparent that churning out of platitudes and bromides is simply unacceptable. Daily briefings from UK and US ‘leaders’ have exposed their emptiness and inability to respond to the moment.

I suggest that this is because they are trapped in the habit so well documented by Jim Macnamara (2015 book) of talking about listening …. and talking … and talking.

Most of us will have been bombarded with communications from CEOs of every organisation we connect with expressing their concern ‘at this difficult time’ but still ending up in self-promotion. It is a hard habit to break.

Others in this field, however, are seizing the space to reflect and connect, aiming to find a new way forward.

In public relations, respected industry leader Stephen Waddington is leading the charge with a blog on  scenario-planning (lockdown) and new forum (community of practice ) for discussing change. The forum already contains several clear-sighted proposals for organisations on managing their way through Covid-19.

But what if we look beyond ‘managing’ to the revolutionary potential of re-thinking the whole caboodle?

What would PR look like if it (we) worked from values or made planetary well-being  the main driver, not another T-shirt slogan? Covid gives us insight into the global catastrophe that is still hurtling down the track. We can see how exploitation of nature and other humans, social injustice, structural inequalities and simple greed have combined to create a perfect vehicle for the virus.

Practitioners in advertising and marketing communications have started asking these questions, and are finding some interesting answers. In particular, I recommend checking out reports of the  climate change summit organised by the sector last year  and how advertising practice is evolving around these insights (change the brief).

These responses start with the acknowledgement that advertising has contributed to global harm before asking what kind of good it might offer, as illustrated in the radical work of the Reclaiming Agency .

This is way beyond managing. It challenges clients. It takes risks. Is it the/a way forward for PR?  Who’s up for change?

Recent publications

Since I ‘retired’ last year I seem to have been rather busy.  The good news is that, free from REF constraints, I can write what interests me not my employer! Here are links and references to recent publications (in reverse date order). Note: access to the P R Review article is free till August 13 through this link: https://authors.elsevier.com/c/1ZHOB1Ik9WUCdg

Journal article:

PRR

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pubrev.2019.05.002

Abstract:

A Global Capability Framework: Reframing public relations for a changing world.This paper describes a two-year research project the purpose of which was to produce the first globally applicable Capability Framework for the practitioner, employer and academic communities in public relations and communicationmanagement. Working with partners across seven continents and supported by the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management, a new approach to building capability was developed via to a four-stage research process, which resulted in nine country and one Global Capability Frameworks. The Global Capability Framework consists of 11 statements which taken as a whole, describe the scope and role of the profession.This paper explores the genesis of the project, a literature review, which also introduces the Capability Approach from the human development field, the research process which involved four different data collection methods, and the content of the resulting Global Capability Framework. The paper concludes with initial responses from the three communities for which the Framework is designed: practitioners, academics and employers. The paper combines theoretical innovation with a valuable practical contribution.

 

Book Chapter

Johanna Fawkes (2018). 15. Harm in Public Relations. In Patrick Lee Plaisance (Editor), Communication and Media Ethics (pp. 273–294). Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110466034-015

Book DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110466034

Online ISBN: 9783110466034

 

Journal article

Fawkes, J. (2018 ). The evolution of public relations research – an overview.

Communication & Society, 31(4),159-171

doi: 10.15581/003.31.4.159

(PDF) The evolution of public relations research -an overview. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329908323_The_evolution_of_public_relations_research_-an_overview [accessed Jul 11 2019].

Abstract:

The field of public relations is often misunderstood, due to its hybridity, complexity and competing perspectives within the field of scholarship. This essay, which is based on extensive engagement with literature conducted over decades of teaching and researching the subject, outlines the main schools of thought within the field. These are summarised as a) Excellence; b) Advocacy; c) Dialogue; and  d) Critical and Cultural approaches. Each perspective reflects variations in understanding of the role of public relations in theory and practice, ranging from an idealised conceptualisation of the practitioner to a demonised view of the practice. It refers throughout to different attitudes to ethics found within these schools, as approaches to ethics provide insight into understandings of the role of public relations within society. The piece concludes with reflections on the growing engagement with promotional culture and emerging research directions.

 

Also: forthcoming chapters (in print)

Public Relations and Professional Identity, in Valenti, C. Handbook of Public Relations, De Gruyter

Public relations and the performance of everything, in R. E. Brown, The Global Foundations of Public Relations: Humanism, China and the West. Routledge

The contribution of public relations to promotional culture – taking the long view, in  Somerville, I., Ihlen, O. and Edwards, L. (eds) Public Relations, Society and the Generative Power of History,  Routledge

Public Relations’ Professionalism and Ethics, Chapter 13, in Tench, R. and Waddington, S. (Eds) Exploring Public Relations (5th Ed), Pearson Education

 

Story released today by University of Huddersfield regarding our research into global capability framework./

Hud news story

Adds to wide range of supporting statements from leading practitioners and professional associations. One called it a game changer for the profession, another said the framework offers the best 2 page summary of the communication function.  Wonderful to be involved in a major project that will make a difference.

 

The result of two years’ hard work with eight partner Universities in six continents was published yesterday at the World Public Relations Forum in Oslo. Here is the Global Alliance news release:

GA release

The full report setting out the background, design and full results is here, as are the frameworks for each participating country:

Report and country frameworks

 

Here’s a pic from the launch, via Annette Tjomsland

and Prof Anne Gregory in action, via Catherine Arrow

Musings on Max Clifford

This is the presentation I made to the MeCCSA (Media, Communication, Culture & Society Association) annual conference at London’s South Bank University a couple of weeks ago. Given Clifford’s predatory, abusive character and enthusiasm for lying, I am queasy about appearing to support his position on anything. But there is another queasiness surrounding the legions of po-faced professional leaders who denounce him as if they never promised to call a journo back without meaning it.

PR and problem of truth: Clifford’s legacy

 

prezi1

‘Post Truth’ PR

Some recent reflections from Pamplona

I’m starting a new blog to track the creation of my next book on appearance, deception, fast and slow communication. It’s provisionally titled Public Relations and Depth Communication: Behind the Mask (for the Routledge New Directions in Public Relations and Communications Research series). Will have thoughts, reviews, links. Followers, suggestions & contributions cordially invited here: Mask bookmask

  • with thanks to Padraig Macnamara for beautiful logo
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