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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.

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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.

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